On Christmas Day, they were 23-5, tied with the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the league. They had the top offense in the league, averaging 110.5 points per 100 possessions.
Then, suddenly, they started to regress toward the mean.
|Portland Trail Blazers|
One of those injuries was a strained groin on their star forward. The news emerged out of All-Star weekend:
According to The Oregonian's Joe Freeman, Aldridge claims his participation in the All-Star Game had nothing to do with his injury:
Regardless of how or when it happened, the Blazers could be in big trouble without Aldridge. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding and is fourth in assists. His 6.3 win shares are second only to Damian Lillard.
And despite initial reports that Aldridge would only be out a week, there are rumblings that Portland may be trying to replace his production for longer than that.
The onus to fill in for the starting power forward will fall largely on the shoulders of second-year journeyman Thomas Robinson.
He's been in the league for less than two seasons and is already playing for his third team. He hasn't started a single game for any of them.
In Portland's first game without Aldridge, coach Terry Stotts opted to start Dorell Wright instead of Robinson, though the young big man ended up playing more minutes than the starter.
He finished with 10 points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes, but the Blazers fell to a shorthanded Spurs team without Tim Duncan or Tony Parker by a final score of 111-109 on Wednesday.
It was a pretty valiant effort for Robinson, but he can't be expected to make up for the 23.9 points a game Aldridge provides.
He simply doesn't have the post game or mid-range shooting.
But he can go a long way toward replacing Aldridge's 11.4 rebounds.
All in all, it will take a gang effort from the Blazers to try to right this ship without arguably their best player.
The key, of course, is defense. Portland's post-Christmas offense has been a bit worse, but it's still one of the best in the league.
The problem is on the other end. Not a single Blazer has an individual defensive rating below 100. Aldridge, Robinson and Meyers Leonard are closest to that mark with ratings of 105.
Cliche as it may sound, defense is all about effort and intensity. The Blazers simply aren't bringing that as much on that end as they are on offense.
So surviving without Aldridge will be all about refocusing. The offense will take a hit without his presence in the lineup, but the defense doesn't have to.
The key to staying afloat now, and re-establishing their status as contenders later, isn't having a healthy Aldridge—it's keeping opponents from scoring.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
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