When you play 82-games a season, sometimes you need a little extra motivation to bring out your best. And that's especially true when you're in the midst of four games in five nights … on the road … in mid-March … with playoff hopes that dwindle with each passing day. That's the situation the Trail Blazers found themselves in Thursday night in Chicago.
Luckily, nearly every Trail Blazer who saw time in Thursday night's 99-89 victory against the Bulls had a little something extra to play for, which might have contributed, at least in small part, to one of Portland's most impressive all-around performances this season.
-- LaMarcus Aldridge has played arguably his best basketball of the season in March, so you wouldn't necessarily want to attribute his 28-point, 8-rebound, 3-assist and 2-block performance to anything other than being at the top of his game. But even LaMarcus admits (though somewhat in jest) that playing against the Bulls, especially in Chicago, will always carry extra significance.
"I love playing here," said Aldridge after the game. "This is one of my top three cities to play in, all the tradition. And they traded me on Draft Night, so this is always fun. I'm going to be 12-years in coming back here and saying 'this is fun to play (here) because they traded me on Draft Night.'"
That trade, if you need to be reminded (LaMarcus obviously doesn't), sent Aldridge and a conditional second-round pick to the Trail Blazers in exchange for Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa.
-- The little something extra to play for was two-fold for Nicolas Batum. He takes great pride in besting his fellow Frenchmen -- I've probably heard Nic reference his win/loss record against Tony Parker at least 20 times -- so going up against Bulls center Joakim Noah provided a little extra something for Batum.
But there was a more Bulls-specific motivation for Nic Thursday night. Chicago is, of course, where the player who Batum has tried to emulate, Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, made his bones. Pippen now serves as an ambassador and advisor to the Bulls and is often times in attendance for games at the United Center, though he was MIA Thursday night, something Batum took notice of.
"I tried to play his type of game tonight,"said Batum, "(get) his type of numbers. He wasn't there tonight. I wanted him to see it. Maybe next time."
It's also worth noting that, when asked about the similarities between himself and Batum during an interview on "The Tony Parker Show"
, Pippen praised Batum, but questioned whether he could be his "successor" and reportedly opted to compare himself to Lebron James instead
-- For Damian Lillard, the extra excitement came simply from playing in the arena where Michael Jordan and the Bulls won three-consecutive NBA Championships starting in 1996. Lillard would have been nearing his sixth birthday when the Bulls won their first championship playing at the United Center, which is roughly about the age when you to have lasting memories, which is why Thursday night's game carried a little extra significance for the rookie point guard.
"This was another one of those arenas that had a different feel to it," said Lillard. "I mean, when the music came on -- dun, dun, dun -- I was like, man I used to get hyped over this, me and my brother, when Jordan played for the Bulls. So it was a good feeling. We laughed about it before the game."
(The "dun, dun, dun" part is Lillard doing his best impression of the opening to "Sirius" by The Alan Parsons Project
, which is what the Bulls have played during their player introductions for years.)
-- And finally, when it came to Wesley Matthews, it was more about elation than motivation after his beloved Marquette Golden Eagles sweated out a victory
against Stephen Curry's Davidson Wildcats
in the first round of the NCAA Men's Tournament. 'Nuff said.