It doesn’t really matter what it was that energized LaMarcus Aldridge to put on a special performance to lead the Portland Trail Blazers in a 110-105 win over the Denver Nuggets, which also included Damian Lillard pulling off the best dunk of the season so far.
Not being an All-Star starter? The two-game losing streak? It doesn’t really matter. Aldridge exploded against the Nuggets with 44 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists. It’s a career high for the 8-year veteran, who also became only the second player in 30 years for the Blazers with a 40-13-5 game or better.
It goes without saying, LaMarcus just keeps impressing everybody with what he’s doing. He was aggressive to the basket, he made his jump shots, he made his free throws, he rebounded, he came up big when we needed him, he made passes out of the double teams when they doubled, he got blocked shots. He was fantastic. What can you say? He’s an MVP candidate. Best power forward in the game. I’ve been saying that for two years now. He put it one display again tonight.
As great players usually do, Aldridge saved his best for last; he alone outscore the Denver Nuggets 15-8 in the final 6:33, scoring all of the Blazers’ points in the finale, marking the comeback that began with the Nuggets leading by 15 points midway through the third quarter.
Aldridge wasn’t alone in this. Wesley Matthews scored 24 points, who had the second-best dunk of the game off an inbound pass. Damian Lillard had a strange game: Only 11 points on 5-of-10 from the field, but he did show he’s more than just a streaky shooter by dribbling past Ty Lawson and then rising over the Denver defense for the best dunk we’ve seen this year.
The Nuggets didn’t have one player to carry them through, which sometimes can be a problem. Ty Lawson had 11 assists and 13 points, but he was only 3-of-11 from the field. Wilson Chandler scored 18 points and the Nuggets enjoyed a good shooting game, hitting 49.4% from the field. However, their 19 turnovers and their foolish fouls at the end of the game, sending Aldridge 8 times to the line (making all 8 shots) in the closing minutes is something they probably felt lost them the game.
LaMarcus Aldridge, the buckets that he made, I can live with that. But some of the fouls that we committed to send him to the line without him having to really work for it, I thought is what hurt us, especially in the fourth quarter.
The All-Star team starters were also announced before Thursday night’s game. Aldridge finished fifth in fan voting among Western Conference frontcourt players, while Lillard finished seventh among guards. Both of them deserve to make the reserves, but that’s not up to them or their head coach. Maybe they can feel some sort of consolation by being named to the 2014-16 U.S. men’s national team pool which means they have a chance to be in the 2016 Olympic games.
Aldridge isn’t going to win the MVP this season (it’s Durant, or James, no one else), but he’s having the best season possible from a player in the tier that comes after the previous two we mentioned. But aside from playing so well and leading the Blazers to their best regular season since the days Clyde Drexler led the team (actually, their 76.9% wins percentage is on pace for the best season in team history) in the early 90’s or the Blazers of the early 00’s, making the conference finals two years in a row, there’s also the Aldridge extension on many people’s minds. This kind of performance, this kind of season, means that he more than deserves a maximum deal (or something close to that) from the team.