The Portland Trail Blazers needed something to spark them back into life as we get closer to the playoffs. Playing against the struggling Atlanta Hawks and winning 100-85 is always good for the record, but getting LaMarcus Aldridge back after seven games is even more important.
While Aldridge was away the Blazers went 3-4, including losing three consecutive games going into Atlanta. Aldridge didn’t shoot the ball as well as always, but he did finish with 25 points, as the Blazers’ offense suddenly looked like it got back that extra dimension it was missing. With Aldridge grabbing plenty of attention, it meant scoring was easier for his teammates.
Aldridge grabbed 16 rebounds as the Blazers starting lineup finished all in double figures. Damian Lillard, no longer forcing himself on the game finished with 21 points on 7-of-15 from the field, getting 12 points of help from Nicolas Batum, 11 from Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews each and even 10 from Thomas Robinson, reminding everyone that the time to give up on him ever fulfilling his lottery pick potential still hasn’t arrived.
The Hawks needed a win bad with the New York Knicks breathing down their necks, but this team is quite limited in what it can do. No Al Horford and this time no Kyle Korver. With guys like Elton Brand and Shelvin Mack getting extended minutes, it’s not easy to even stay in 8th of the Eastern conference.
It was a buzzer beating kind of night for the Blazers, the kind of shots that seem to change the perception of a quarter, as Portland hit one at the end of each of the first three quarters. Mo Williams hit one at the end of the first, Wesley Matthews hit one before halftime and Damian Lillard capped it off by hitting a deep 3 at the end of the third quarter. Lillard’s big shot was extremely important as it seemed to kill off any hope the Hawks had of coming back to the game after already falling behind by 16 points in the first half.
Can Portland get back into the West’s top four? Probably not not when they’re four games behind the 4th spot. But this season should be about more than just making noise and announcing to the Western conference that “we’re back”. The Blazers at their best looked like one of the top 3 teams in the conference, only they need everyone, and especially Lillard and Aldridge, to be hitting on all cylinders for that to happen.
Who knows, maybe their long slide over the course of this season was just a setup, and they’re ready to peak again after some shaky performances of late. Aldridge being injured certainly didn’t help in the short run, but it also meant some rest for a player, that like the entire starting five, has been spent and pulled in pretty much every direction because of a lack of bench.
There’s no “deserve” in basketball and especially not in the extremely difficult West, where a 43-30 team like Dallas currently finds itself outside the playoff picture. But the Blazers have played well enough this season to show us that they can be more than just a first round team, and maybe this return by Aldridge will spark them into playing the kind of basketball no one seemed able to handle earlier in the season.