Many will argue about Portland’s chance to contend this season, but what cannot be argued is that this team is the best chance the Blazers have had for a championship in a long time. LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to play Saturday night showed that, and may wind up being a defining moment in his career.
Aldridge put on a performance that was as unselfish as you will see in the NBA. After a report that the power forward would miss six to eight weeks, he decided to forgo surgery until after this season to help his team maintain their spot in the Western Conference.
The Wizards dominated the first quarter on both sides of the ball, but the Blazers were able to keep the score somewhat close thanks to a few Aldridge post ups and mid-range jumpers. Excitement turned to anxiety every time he got the ball, as his injured thumb was put to the test. The anxiety was relieved every time, as Aldridge was able to really show his impact on the court.
He offered no looks of pain or discomfort, just the occasional tug at his thumb, or the tape that wrapped around his hand. The decision to play looked less risky and more like a no-brainer as the game went on. Aldridge put up numbers typical of his play over the last few seasons; 26 points and 9 rebounds.
Portland beat the Wizards 103-96.
This season won’t be defined by one win, but it has a chance to be defined by Aldridge’s decision to play. If the Blazers make a run in the post season, due to their spot in the playoff race out west, Aldridge will be the biggest reason. Without him Portland would have had to just stay afloat out West with a brutal upcoming schedule.
The question has become whether or not the risk is worth the reward. Whether or not Aldridge playing with a torn ligament in his thumb is worth the Blazers’ continued success with him on the court this season.
That question was answered on Saturday. The crowd was loud when Aldridge was introduced, and there was something different in the atmosphere in Moda Center that night. Having a leader on the court does more than just x’s and o’s. Emotionally, it puts Portland in a spot where they know they can beat any team in the NBA, no matter how many points they go down.
The x’s an o’s can’t be ignored though, as Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews both got better looks in this game than the two they played without Aldridge. The court was spaced better and Portland’s offense looked more comfortable.
Aldridge has said he wants to be the best Blazer of all time. And among a contract year for the power forward, he made another statement about that sentiment this weekend. Playing with an injury like that is not something a player in a contract year would do if he’s not certain he’s going to stay.
Portland’s success hinges on their All-Star power forward, and Aldridge looks to be well on his way to securing his legendary Blazer status. If he can help Portland to be successful in the playoffs this year, of course.