Moving a bit gingerly and still shooting the rust off, LaMarcus Aldridge has been back in the Trail Blazers’ lineup for two games; both of them convincing wins. His recent return will probably be just enough to keep Portland from falling much further than 5th or 6th in the Western Conference standings. While appreciated, I would almost prefer the Trail Blazers skid a bit further, since they have a better chance of beating any team not named the Houston Rockets in the first round of the NBA playoffs. If the season ended today, they’d have one heck of a matchup Dwightmare to deal with, but I suppose there is something to be said for the security of not having to battle for 8th seed.
Let’s forget about Houston for now. They are beside the point I’ve logged on to make. Aldridge immensely helps the Portland offense by A) being a lethal scorer with respectable range for his size, B) Pulling would-be double-teams off of Damian Lillard up top, and C) creating mismatches with his unique height at the forward position. However; his reliability for Portland means predictability for opposing teams. The haphazard mess of so-called basketball Aldridge missed out on these last few weeks was a disturbing display of ineptitude, but also an unusual opportunity to experiment.
There’s an old Thomas Edison quote with an assortment of varying citations (funny how that works when the source has been dead for a century and a half) that goes something like: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Eventually, Edison came up with that little ball of electricity we’ve all sworn at for burning out at inconvenient times called the light bulb. With Aldridge temporarily out of Portland’s picture, the Trail Blazers got to shatter some fragile glass and burn their finger tips as they discovered how not to invent their light bulb. Yet each failure could be key.
Most competent team’s have already discovered how to play Aldridge; don’t double, don’t give him room to back you down, and if you can force him to spin right you’ve done your job. For the most part, he’s not a threat on the perimeter and he prefers to hang away from the rim. You better believe opposing coaches see this and have realized just how much Stotts runs the offense through Aldridge down the stretch. This could be a big problem in the post-season. However; if the Trail Blazers can retain the useful fractions of their desperation tactics from Aldridge’s absence, they could emerge better than before.
After the Trail Blazers defeated the Wizards 116-103 without Aldridge, Wizards’ All-Star point guard John Wall stated that the Trail Blazers are easier to defend with LaMarcus on the floor: “You would rather have LaMarcus in there because when he’s not, you got a guy in Dorell Wright that can spread the court and shoot threes. You got four guys that spread the court and one guy just rolling to the basket and it’s very hard to stunt and rotate and do those things.” He raises a point that is both concerning and helpful.
This doesn’t mean the Trail Blazers should sit their best player in favor of disorienting the defense, but it does show just how effective switching things up from time to time can be. If Terry Stotts does not implement any of the successful tactics he stumbled across during his sporadic lineup adjustments and failures, then the Trail Blazers’ recent losing streak was all for naught. Aldridge is the filament that keeps Portland’s bulb flickering, but the Stotts-watts will remain low until he is ready to try new things with Aldridge available. Utilizing other players or simply using Aldridge differently is the first step to reinventing the team in a new successful light while keeping the competition in the dark as the playoffs approach.