Posted Dec 23 2009 11:05PM
This road trip might be the most treacherous for Portland this season. Four games against four legit playoff big boys for a banged up squad trying to get some traction.
The Blazers opened with a split in Florida before hitting Texas for a Dallas-San Antonio back-to-back. They're 2-1, down another man (Joel Przybilla) and down to the final leg Wednesday night before heading back to the Pacific Northwest for a needed day off and a Christmas Night visit by Denver.
As much as some want to get home, LaMarcus Aldridge saw the latter part of the trek as a chance to go home and do some good. The Dallas native spent much of his off day Monday delivering toys to more 700 needy kids at the Kiest Park Recreation Center in Oak Cliff and the Pleasant Oak Recreation Center.
"These are places I grew up in and played basketball in the area," said Aldridge, 24. "I thought it would be a good thing to give back to areas that gave to me. I know these are low-income areas and it was a rewarding experience to see the kids' reactions and to hear some of the stories."
One story that stuck with Aldridge involved a family losing their home in a fire.
"This was their Christmas," he said. "That felt good to hear."
Aldridge hopes these trips to Dallas continue. He wasn't sure how he would pull it off before the season, but fate intervened through the league office. It just so happened he found himself in his hometown the week of Christmas.
"This is something that I want to become a tradition," he said. "Actually, I was trying to figure out how to do this and then the schedule came out. It couldn't have worked out any better."
Aldridge is just one of many players across the league lending a helping hand during the holiday season. Mavericks forward Shawn Marion is providing another big assist in Big D by personally bringing gifts to seven single mothers and their kids Christmas morning.
"I know what it feels like to grow up and have sneakers so old and worn that I had to avoid puddles so that the socks protruding through the soles of my shoes would not get soaked because my mother could not afford new sneakers," he said. "I know what it feels like to have nothing. My mom is a wonderful and strong woman who worked two jobs for a long time to put food on the table to feed us. To come from nothing to something is a blessing and I want to be a blessing to others."
Marion purchased toys, bikes, TVs, clothes, furniture and gift cards through his foundation.
The Spurs treat the holidays like make offices do. There's an exchange of names and presents, and just as your cubicle neighbor may be going for the cheap laugh, gag gifts are big.
The best/worst ever might be an oversized nose-hair trimmer given to Manu Ginobili. The Argentine is quite used to the ribbing. Or is that nosing?
"It was like this," Ginobili said, holding his hands about 10 inches apart. "This guy was always making fun of me about the size of my nose, so you can guess who that was."
Step right up Brent Barry of NBA TV fame.
As far teams playing on Christmas, it usually means they're arrived. (New York gets a pass here.) There's a certain spark, at least at first, from suiting up on Dec. 25. Does it wear off for teams that are seemingly on every year, such as the Lakers?
"When you first start becoming a good team, you get excited about being on national TV," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "But I've found the teams that are really kind of bored and frustrated, they're not excited on being on TV and they're the ones that are probably pretty good teams."
Such as the Lakers.
It makes sense to question Russell Westbrook's future at point guard with the Thunder after trading for rookie Eric Maynor on Tuesday. Maynor, after all, is a natural point guard, while the supremely-talented Westbrook is still learning the position.
Westbrook, many argue, would be better suited at shooting guard, where his explosiveness and scoring ability would be emphasized. As a playmaker, he's among the league leaders in turnovers at 3.3 per game. (That can't be all bad since LeBron James, Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Gilbert Arenas and teammate Kevin Durant each average at least that many.)
Sure, the goal is to get Westbrook's turnovers down, but not by turning the point guard reigns to Maynor. The Thunder organization was high on the VCU product in the Draft and jumped at the chance to acquire him. More importantly, he's viewed as long-term backup, stress backup, to Westbrook, within team circles.
Maynor, 6-foot-3, averaged 5.2 points, 3.1 assists and 1.5 rebounds in 26 games for Utah. The 20th pick currently ranks fourth in assists, 19th in steals and 24th in scoring among rookies.
As a side note, acquiring Maynor and the contract of Matt Harpring led to OKC waiving Shaun Livingston. It's another setback for the one-time lottery pick, who's still only 24.
"Things just keep happening. We don't know the reason why and tonight we lost big Joel [Przybilla] and the other guys came together, they didn't quit, they rallied."
-- Blazers coach Nate McMillan after Tuesday night's win at Dallas.
1. Now the Blazers lose Joel Przybilla. As if they needed another sign that this just isn't their season, they got one.
2. So the Kings rally from five touchdowns down to beat the Bulls. Somewhere the Houston Oilers are popping champagne.
3. Dirk Nowitzki drives it into the teeth of the defense more than you think, just ask Carl Landry. And the Tough Guy of the Week co-winners both scored 27 in their first games back Tuesday.
4. Two hottest teams around -- Lakers and Celtics. Figures.
5. Late Stocking Stuff Dept. The 10 teams playing Christmas are breaking out new player-ID shooting shirts. That means last names on the warm-up garb. After Friday, all teams will wear them on weekends. Check it out at the NBA Store.
(Interview by NBA.com correspondent Holly MacKenzie)
HM: What did you know about Toronto before you came here?
PMB: I knew it was cold. I knew it was a diverse city, that it had a little bit of European flair to it, but that it was unique in its own style. I was looking forward to what it had to offer. When I came out here, I was just glad the fans accepted me with open arms. I like the way they appreciate the hard work. And, if that's what they appreciate, there's more of that to come.
HM: How did the D-League call ups work for you last year?
PMB: Last year I was called up once or twice. I had a choice between coming here or San Antonio and I chose San Antonio first because, the team I was playing for before, I knew their [San Antonio's] system so I felt more comfortable there. After that was done, I decided to come to Toronto and coach [Jay Triano] gave me a chance to play and threw me out in the fire, the last 20-25 games. I was definitely, definitely appreciative of that.
HM: Now, you had a big dunk and a nasty block against your former [Houston] teammates and afterwards I saw you looking at the bench. What were you saying and how does it feel to do that against the team that let you go?
PMB: I love those guys over there. They're my boys. When I dunked on Carl Landry, he was like, "You got lucky," and I was like, "No, you got unlucky." It was cool, but like I said it was basketball and that's the kind of stuff that happens. It definitely feels a little bit better when you do it against your old team, though.
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