Strange things happen during times of adversity. You adjust, you grow, you mature, and at times you reinvent. The Trail Blazers know this well. They've faced plenty of adversity. I've said this before, but without the bitter the sweet 'aint as sweet.
Nothing this season has gone like we expected, or hoped, it would go. But, here the team sits, just 29 games into the year, just two games back of where it was a year ago. Sounds a little crazy, I realize. It hasn't felt the same. Actually, nothing close to the same. But, perhaps a rediscovery has taken place.
It happens so often it's amazing it always catches us off guard, but this league has always been about opportunity. Right place, right time. It's huge. Or, in this case, right place, unfortunate circumstance for some, blast off for another. Yes, LaMarcus Aldridge has hit a new layer.
What Aldridge has now done is sustain success. I know it's not like it's been months here, but it's clearly been enough that we can rule out "good matchup," or "just a fortunate night where things were going his way." This has been a four-game stretch like no other in his career.
Yes, winning is the ultimate cure-all. I get that. I also get that we're not talking about wins over the elites of the NBA. But, whenever the Trail Blazers lose I always try to give credit to the winning team. So, when the schedule starts to balance out, and you get some opportune matchups, I'm not apologizing for the high that comes with winning- no matter who it happens to be against. Aldridge shouldn't either.
After Monday night's 106-80 blowout of the Milwaukee Bucks, Aldridge stood before his locker and tried to explain what's going on with his game. He said he hit one jumper at the top of the key, late in the third quarter in the game at Dallas, and things have just felt differently since then. I guess it can truly be that simple.
He went for 35 against the Mavericks, against a good defense. He went for 36 and 10 against Kevin Love and Minnesota. He scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a win over Golden State. And, Monday he went for 29 and 19 against Andrew Bogut and the Bucks. Those are all-star numbers.
Most importantly, the Blazers have played well, and have won three of those four games. He's recognized the opportunity to assert himself, put the team on his shoulders, and live up to his lofty expectations. We've seen him turn from an outside-in player, to an inside-out player. That's probably the best news that's come out of this. He's delivered contact, he's scored in a variety of ways, and he's produced when he's been the focal point of opposing defenses.
Am I ready to declare this his
team? Too early for that probably, but this is something that only could have been born out of this very situation the team finds itself in right now. He's had
to do this.
I also realize the 500-pound gorilla that's sitting across the room- what happens when Brandon Roy comes back? Here's what gives me confidence. Aldridge is out of the box now, and he's not going back in. He's not the same player he was a week ago. Do you think that's possible, or is that overstated?
Along with heaping praise on LaMarcus, we've got to call attention to the other guy who's been born again- Rudy Fernandez. This is who Rudy says he has been all along. We've never seen it. Again, maybe it took this exact situation for us to find out, and for him to believe it.
He's always said he can be more than a spot-up three-point shooter. In the last several games, which came on the heels of an awful shooting slump, Rudy has taken off. His confidence has skyrocketed, his game has looked complete, and he's playing with a swagger and freedom that we had only seen during his time with the Spanish National team. In his last three games, he's scored 26 points, 15 points, and 17 points. He's racked up 18 assists and only 2 turnovers during that time. He's played great defense, and at times, has run the Portland offense.
The biggest challenge for these two players? Do it again. I said it after the Minnesota game, after the Golden State game, and I say it again now. There's no going back. You've been exposed. Show me again.
Yes, all the Blazers have done is beat three teams they were supposed to beat. But, this has had a different feel to it. Maybe we were just starving and someone tossed us a cracker. That's entirely possible.
Now, things get tougher. It's games at Golden State, at Utah, and at Denver. Then, it's back home for a game against Utah.
If the past three games were a pop quiz, the next four are a mid-term exam.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, following the win over Milwaukee, click here