Why Nobody Should Expect LaMarcus Aldridge's Dominance to Slow Down

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Why Nobody Should Expect LaMarcus Aldridge's Dominance to Slow Down
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

There might be a way for the Houston Rockets to slow down Portland Trail Blazers superstar LaMarcus Aldridge.

Just don't count on them finding it.

Aldridge has spent his first two postseason games against the Rockets playing like a man on fire and loving it, scoring and rebounding as if he's been waiting three years for this opportunity.

Oh, wait a minute. That's exactly what he's doing.

This is Aldridge's first playoff appearance since 2011. The Blazers' continued postseason absence became a sore subject leading into this year, with Jason Quick of The Oregonian reporting on his rumored unhappiness, clearing a path for an exit many deemed inevitable by 2015.

Whether that frustration actually existed, we do not know. However, Aldridge is playing with pent-up playoff energy, as he and the Blazers continue to exceed their ceiling.

After victories in Games 1 and 2, he sounded tired, exhausted and in need of rest. While on the court, he's shown no signs of weakness or diminished stamina, exhibiting the kind of staying power we won't soon stop talking about.

 

Are These Numbers for Real?

Through two games, Aldridge is averaging a mind-bending 44.5 points, 13 rebounds and 2.5 blocks on 59.3 percent shooting.

Two games is an awfully small sample size, but so is the entire postseason. One or two games can shift the momentum of an entire series and provide an accurate preview of what's to come.

Watching Aldridge, whatever he does next is bound to be spectacular, largely because what he's already done approaches the absurd.

Two games are all it's taken for him to join the company of Michael Jordan:

And Kobe Bryant and LeBron James:

Only 15 active players can say they've scored 40-plus points more than once in a playoff game. Aldridge is one of them and has barreled into the conversation using two consecutive, otherworldly performances.

He also joins James, Tim Duncan and Amar'e Stoudemire as the only active players with at least 40 points, eight boards and two blocks in two or more playoff games.

To top it all off, Aldridge and Shaquille O'Neal are now the only two players to notch at least 40 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in consecutive playoff games since 1995, when Hakeem Olajuwon did the same.

Some company.

Now, Aldridge isn't going to average 40-plus for the duration of Portland's playoff push. At least, I don't think he will. Then again, I also thought James Harden wouldn't completely disappear during these playoffs, so what do I know?

Still, chances are Aldridge won't sustain his current postseason averages. However, that doesn't mean he'll stop dominating.

For starters, as yours truly pointed out earlier, Aldridge isn't abusing Houston's defense under ideal circumstances:

But the Rockets did succeed in keeping him out of the paint. Nineteen of his 28 shots came away from the basket. Having nearly 68 percent of your looks come outside the paint isn't ideal, even for a power forward with range like Aldridge. In that aspect, the defense did its job.

Of course, there's one monstrous caveat: Aldridge drilled 13 of those 19 field-goal attempts, exposing the Rockets in a completely different way. Though it sounds absurd, they have to live with this, too. Making Aldridge beat you from that range is a far better scenario than watching him light it up at or around the rim.

Not all of Aldridge's looks were wide-open. Omer Asik and Dwight Howard frequently put hands in his face. Aldridge was doing his damage outside the paint in Game 2, whereas most of his work came around the basket in Game 1.

All of us should know by now that Aldridge embraces mid-range jumpers and long two-pointers, but that doesn't make them easy. He's at his best when he can work from the inside out. Forcing him to live and die by contested jumpers is the best way to defend him.

For most of Game 2, the Rockets employed that strategy. And it failed. Miserably.

What's worse, there's nothing else they can do. They can avoid the Terrence Jones-Aldridge matchup, sure. Asik had more success against Aldridge than Howard did, so they can account for that too. Nevertheless, you cannot contain or limit Aldridge if he's going to cremate your defense with hands in his face and paths to the basket blocked. 

"I just got in that rhythm and started making shots, but they definitely changed it up on me," Aldridge told ESPN's Tom Haberstroh.

When you're hot, you're hot.

Aldridge is on fire.

 

Deserved Attention

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Aldridge is also hungry.

The Blazers don't get a lot of national attention, and Aldridge doesn't either—not until recently.

Suddenly, he's playing on a national stage every night. This is his opportunity to show the NBA as well as its fans and pundits what he can do. According to The Oregonian's John Canzano, that's something that should not be lost on anyone:

America, meet LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge, this is America.

The rest of us know how dominant the Blazers' forward can be, and how laser-focused it feels when he's locked into a groove like the one he's enjoyed in back-to-back games. He's been this good for while. But he's never done it with the country settled in on their couches, watching him drop 17-foot sledgehammers on Dwight Howard's head.

At this point of his career, the playoffs are more than just the playoffs for Aldridge. He's spent the better part of a decade flying under the radar in a small market, grabbing headlines for a potential departure more than his play.

Not anymore, though.

The conversation has shifted. People were wrong about the Blazers. I was wrong about the Blazers. It's because of Aldridge that we know we were mistaken and the Blazers are capable of advancing. 

 

Can't Stop, Won't Slow Down

Attempts to discount Aldridge and the Blazers now are absurd.

They're not perfect, that's for sure. Their defense still needs work, and you have to wonder how many games they'll actually win when Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum all shoot under 37 percent from the floor like they did in Game 2.

One of their understated certainties, though, is Aldridge, the oft-forgotten All-Star. He's not doing anything out of character.

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Operating outside the paint is an occupational hazard. He'll shoot jumpers exclusively. He doesn't care.

He'll grab rebounds and block shots. That's what he does.

He'll go on the occasional, record-setting, legend-mimicking run during the playoffs. That's what superstars do, and evidently what Aldridge does.

Don't expect him to change or slow down. Not now.

Not when he's playing like this, at a time like this.

"LaMarcus Aldridge killed us once again," Harden told Haberstroh.

Regardless of how Aldridge does it—by way of 40-point, history-rivaling outings or something else—his killing spree isn't over.

 

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.


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