Alright people, pull out your notebooks because we’re about to cram as much Trail Blazer knowledge into your brain before tonight’s big test against the Atlanta Hawks.
Let’s first start off by talking about the team in general. Portland moved up to the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference after winning a thrilling overtime victory, 107-106, against the Denver Nuggets on Friday.
The Trail Blazers (33-25) have won seven of their last eight and with 24 games left in the regular season, they’re in range of pushing for the No.4 seat or even higher.
As of now, Portland and New Orleans are even in the loss column with 25 a piece, but the Hornets sit one position ahead in the fifth position. Both teams are three games behind Oklahoma City (36-22), but the Thunder have hit a down turn, dropping three consecutive games.
Gaining home-court advantage could help the Trail Blazers advance deeper into the playoffs this post season.
Look at Portland’s playoff run over the past two years. In both instances, their hopes abruptly ended in the first round while holding the fourth and sixth seeds.
Portland obviously has greater expectations in the post season this year with Thursday’s trade for Charlotte’s Gerald Wallace.
The organization made a huge risk, swapping team depth for firepower, in the closing minutes of the deadline. But big risks can earn big returns.
Wallace, the 6-foot-7 forward out of Alabama, has well-rounded skills to be an x-factor on this team. He can scrap with the toughest guys on the floor and he can produce buckets on the other end of the floor.
He was the Bobcats’ go-to scorer, averaging 15.6 points, 8.20 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. And before the trade, “Crash” dropped at least 19 points in six of 10 games in the month of February.
Now mix Wallace, who said he’s willing to do the things that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet, with a force like LaMarcus Aldridge and we’re talking about a team with explosiveness on both ends of the floor.
Without question, Aldridge is playing the best season of his career, averaging 22 points, 9.10 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. But most importantly, Aldridge’s confidence has skyrocketed as Portland continues to get stronger.
In Friday’s game, Aldridge, who led Portland with 24 points and hauled in 14 rebounds for his second consecutive night, played close to 51 minutes with the majority of his time at the center position to fill in for the Trail Blazers' lack of bigs.
After surging a fourth-quarter comeback to trail 106-104 with a minute remaining in overtime, Matthews hit a free throw to come within one and Portland forced a turnover that put Aldridge at the line with 23.1 seconds.
Two nights ago, Aldridge faced a similar situation at the line in overtime against the Lakers, when he missed two crucial free throws that could have brought Portland within one in the loss. This time, he stepped up calmly to the line and sank both attempts to put Portland on top by one.
While Aldridge has already claimed his dominance near the rim, adding a guy like Wallace is like adding another wrecking ball that can get in the paint and do damage.
Now, on to Brandon Roy.
I’ve heard a lot of talk about the rebirth of Roy after his game-tying three in the closing seconds against the Nuggets. In the last three minutes of the fourth quarter, I witnessed Roy transform into the guy before the knee trouble, but then I have to ask if that guy even left?
Yes, his knee surgery has set his physical play back a couple steps, but his confidence seems just as strong, or even stronger now.
Since his return, Roy has surpassed his regulated minutes, which to me is a good sign. He played just over 15 against the Lakers, even though he looked to want to play more, and totaled 24 against the Nuggets after scoring 10 points in the final three minutes of regulation and ended with 18.
Roy is the other element, along with a returning Marcus Camby, who can make Portland a serious contender in the playoff race.
He’s a winner and a competitor. Aldridge will make Roy better, and it’s the other way around. The same can be said when Wallace jump in the lineup in his first game as a Trail Blazer.