L-Train Rolls Over Minnesota, Again
If LaMarcus Aldridge could only play against the Minnesota Timberwolves every night, this whole All-Star debate wouldn't be taking place. He'd already have his ticket to Los Angeles.
In three games against the Timberwolves this season, Aldridge has averaged 34 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks, and has shot 62 percent from the field. Most importantly, his team has won all three contests and has now beaten Minnesota 15 straight times. In this one, his team led by as many as 17 in the second half, before winning the game 113-102.
The last time these two teams played at the Rose Garden, Aldridge posted a career-high 36 points. On Monday night, he bettered that by a point, scoring 37, and grabbing 12 rebounds. And, he did it against a very big, very physical interior, that has tried every possible combination of defense to slow him down. They've single-covered, forced him baseline, forced him middle, brought quick double teams, played him from the front, and from behind. Nothing has worked.
In the first two meetings, Aldridge has had Marcus Camby to balance out the front court, and has helped him defensively. Camby played just over 7 minutes in this game, before leaving the game with what is being termed as "a sore left knee."
Fortunately, Aldridge, and the Blazers, got help from Joel Przybilla on this night, who is starting to look more like the player we knew before he had the two knee surgeries last season. Finally given a chance to get a good solid run, and a chance to get loose, Przybilla recorded 6 points, 7 rebounds, and blocked a shot. If the question was being asked (and it was) if Joel would ever get back to resembling the player who's been so good for this team in his career, this was an excellent sign that he is coming back around. Joel has said he's at about "75 or 80 percent" of where he wants to be, and this was, by far, the best he has looked since last December.
This game resembled Saturday's sluggish win over New Jersey for a while. In that game the Nets shot well above their average in the first half, and led most of the early part of the game. Minnesota grabbed an early eight-point lead in this one, and badly wanted to end this long, ugly streak. But, the Trail Blazers finally flexed in the third quarter and outscored Minnesota 38-27.
Aldridge was very good in the third quarter offensively, but Portland's defensive star of the quarter was maybe a little bit of a surprise. Rudy Fernandez, who continues to struggle with his shot, recorded 4 steals in that quarter, and had a huge impact on Portland's energy in that decisive quarter. There haven't been many times when you could say that Rudy shot 3 for 11 in a game, yet still was very, very good. This was one of those rare nights.
The same could be said for Nicolas Batum. He was just 1 for 11 from the field, but played very solid defense, and grabbed 9 rebounds, making up for the ice-cold night from the field.
Wesley Matthews, who had his turn at netting a career high against Minnesota 10 days ago, added 23 for the Blazers.
But, the player of the game, without a doubt, was Aldridge. He's in this push to make the all-star team, and one of the guys he's going to have to beat out is Minnesota's Kevin Love. Love had 22 points, and 17 rebounds, but did most of his damage well after the Blazers had control of the game. This head-to-head round, like the first two, clearly went to Aldridge.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, click here
We're now off to Sacramento, where the Blazers take on the Kings for the first time this season on Wednesday night. Their streak over the Kings isn't quite as impressive as the 15-game streak over Minnesota, but they have beaten Sacramento seven-straight times. The Kings are playing much, much better as of late. They just wrapped up an eastern road trip with a loss at Atlanta on Monday- a game they should have won. And, on Friday beat the New York Knicks handily, at Madison Square Garden.