LaMarcus Aldridge will be an All-Star again:
Considering the dysfunctional way in which LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs entered last summer, the prospect of him earning an All-Star berth as an unofficial reward for the work done while Kawhi Leonard was sidelined with an injury would be as severe a plot twist as anyone could have imagined.
Just five months ago, after Aldridge played so poorly after Leonard’s injury in the Western Conference Finals and was candidly criticized by his coach for his struggles, his frustration had everything to do with the reality that the Spurs were exploring the possibility of trading him. Then came mid-October, when Aldridge inked a three-year, $72 million extension that made it clear that his heart-to-heart offseason discussions with coach Gregg Popovich had mended fences. But if Aldridge (22.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game; 50.7% shooting) keeps up this productive pace, and if the Spurs (13-7) keep winning while they wait for Leonard to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy problem that has kept him out all season, he should be in line to land the kind of All-Star spot that would improve this locker room dynamic even more.
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Aldridge was an odd man out at All-Star weekend last season, ending his streak of consecutive All-Star berths at five while fellow big men like the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan and Memphis’ Marc Gasol played in the New Orleans exhibition. And while the 32-year-old knew he’d be sacrificing individual acclaim when he decided to leave Portland and sign in San Antonio three summers ago, the idea of his days as an All-Star being done certainly weren’t in the plans.
The Spurs, same as they ever were, have won nine of their last 12 games and look fully capable of posing a serious threat to the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Especially if Aldridge keeps playing like this when Leonard returns.
Portland will be a top four team in the West:
Don’t look now, but the Blazers (13-8) have become one of the most dominant defensive teams in all the NBA. And no, that’s not a misprint.
For all the steady success that coach Terry Stotts has inspired during his Blazers tenure that began in 2012, having a top-tier defensive team has never been part of his repertoire. Yet his Blazers, who have been in the bottom of the league’s defensive rating rankings in four of the past five seasons, are currently third (99.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, per NBA.com/stats).
Big men Jusuf Nurkic, Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh are leading the way in the post for the team that leads the NBA in rebounding percentage (53.2), and their dynamic wing duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is certainly doing its part. That’s the kind of development that should bode well come playoff time, and the fact that Oklahoma City, Memphis and the Clippers are underperforming for a myriad of reasons means Portland is primed to surprise the masses.
Also, because it has to be said, Lillard simply must be an All-Star again if he keeps this pace up. The sixth-year pro who has been an All-Star twice has been snubbed far too often in the past, and he’s currently one of just four players averaging at least 25 points, six assists and five rebounds per game (Steph Curry, LeBron James, and James Harden are the others, per BasketballReference.com.
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