What do we want? LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE!
When do we want him? NOW!
The Portland Trail Blazers may very well have walked off the job and went on strike since Aldridge went down with a back injury 8 games ago, but got back to work and back to their winning ways as they cruised over the defenseless Hawks 100-85.
There is so much about the Blazers’ offense that just doesn’t work without a post presence: with nobody threatening the paint, the defense can stack the three point line. They can trap. They can dare you to drive and force you to shoot over the trees.
With LaMarcus Aldridge back and moving about as well as ever (one can only hope there’s room for improvement on a night when you score 25 points, grab 16 boards, get 2 assists, a block, and a steal in 32 minutes!), the Blazers took a collective sigh of relief. Everybody benefitted, not least of which Damian Lilliard, who got more open looks than he has in a dog’s age as he went 4-9 from downtown for 21 points of his own (not to mention the 6 rebounds and 4 assists).
Nicolas Batum also got his open looks, even if it took him a while to warm up on his way to 12 points on 50% shooting. Off the bench, Mo Williams tied his career high with 11 assists, and shot a restrained 3-6, and Thomas Robinson looked like he had a growth spurt in his development, taking a charge and hitting all 4 of his shots for 10 points.
It was just a different team with Aldridge back in the lineup, and the ease with which he got back into his role as “best player on the team” didn’t go unnoticed. After returning from the groin injury that bothered him since before the All-Star break, Aldridge looked a little slower, a little more hesitant, and a little less like the dominant player he’s become over the last few years, before again being sidelined with a back contusion.
Tonight, he shook off a little rust, coughing up a few airballs, but looked spritely and nimble, getting back into the groove quicker than a bowling ball finding the gutter, and showed everyone what Portland had so desperately been missing.
The best part about this game, besides Aldridge, was that the Blazers were able to build a big lead (as many as 16 points), and were able to prevent the Hawks from ever getting closer than 6. That’s a big deal for a team that has both blown leads and been unable to build them in the first place as of late.
While the 46-27 Blazers hold a tenuous grip on the West’s 5th spot, just 2.5 games in front of the 9th-place Mavericks, every game matters, and this one was a must-win. And while Portland plays 6 of its last 8 games in the comfort of the Moda Center, they have no time to rest as they face the 40-31 Bulls in Chicago tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. PDT. A win would be a jolt of confidence that has been lacking these last few weeks, and another big game from Aldridge might bring something to Blazers fans that’s been in even shorter supply: peace of mind.