Posted Feb 10 2011 9:54AM
Plenty of folks were pretty hacked off in and around Portland after the Western Conference All-Star roster was fleshed out in the last week. "Snub" was about the nicest word used to describe the plight of LaMarcus Aldridge.
Blazers teammate Andre Miller took serious exception with Blake Griffin's inclusion, declaring "publicity and hype" led to the selection of the Clippers rookie. An appalled coach Nate McMillan said Aldridge's body of work and the Blazers' record should have been "good enough" to earn a Feb. 20 invite to Staples Center.
Aldridge added fuel to the fire by saying All-Star berths are "about stats, not wins" after learning Minnesota forward Kevin Love made the team as David Stern's injury replacement for Yao Ming.
But the flames have blazed for long enough for Aldridge. He's tired of talking about the All-Star bid that never was. It's time to move on.
"I really haven't been thinking about it at all," Aldridge told NBA.com on Wednesday. "The city of Portland and the organization were putting more emphasis on it than me. My whole goal was just to be solid this year, try to become more of a leader and to grow on the court physically and mentally.
"That's been my goal, so now that the All-Star talk is over with, I'll just keep doing what I've been doing."
And that, he said, is playing for his team and his mother. Georgia Aldridge is undergoing chemotherapy treatments in her battle with cancer, and LaMarcus has dedicated this season to her. The other stuff, he said, is immaterial.
"I focused on All-Star the previous two years and it really didn't get me anywhere," he said. "This year I just wanted to focus on just becoming a better player and doing it for my mom. Those mean more than playing for an All-Star bid. Those aren't seen as selfish things to do."
The Blazers, awash in injuries once again, are afloat in the West playoff race largely due to Aldridge. The power forward, in his fifth year, has assumed an even greater role with the absences of longtime scoring leader Brandon Roy and defensive anchor Marcus Camby.
Aldridge has emerged as the go-to guy in the attack, and he's responded by averaging a career-high 21.6 points while shooting 49 percent. Two days before the West reserves were announced, he scored a career-high 40. Three days after Love made the team, Aldridge went for 42.
He's also playing more center than ever before. Not only has Camby been out for more than three weeks, the Blazers haven't had Greg Oden all season and Joel Przybilla for most of it. Aldridge is pulling down 9.1 boards per night -- good for 12th in the league and a full rebound better than any of his prior four seasons.
Aldridge, 25, called his increased production a product of being a leader. He carried teams at Dallas-area Seagoville High School and the University of Texas before being the second pick in the 2006 Draft. Aldridge has been a captain, along with Roy, for the last four years.
"Now I'm just having to take my captain duties to a different level as far as leading guys on the court and talking more," he said.
He added not having Roy in the lineup has accelerated that leadership growth. (Roy and Camby have returned to practice, and are expected back in the lineup in the near future.) Aldridge isn't alone in the "stepping up" department. Miller, Nicolas Batum, newcomer Wesley Matthews, Rudy Fernandez and Dante Cunningham are among those providing a lift as Portland aims to get healthy.
"We have a bunch of guys that can play multiple positions, a bunch of guys that can play basketball," Aldridge said. "Guys have stepped up with all this adversity and try to take on different roles, and that's been the key in this whole stretch."
The Blazers (28-24) went into Thursday eighth in the conference. They're just three games back of fifth-place New Orleans and one up Memphis. Making a climb in the West and playing their best ball of the season is the Blazers' focus for the last 30 regular-season games.
Portland wouldn't be in postseason contention without Aldridge. That's why his allies -- Miller and McMillan, especially -- reacted so harshly to the perceived All-Star slight.
"They were pretty mad," said Aldridge, who's spending the All-Star break home in Dallas. "They've seen my play and what I've done first-hand, so I think they felt like I should have been there. Andre felt like I should have been there. Coach Nate felt I should have been there. That's just us being close and those guys having my back."
Aldridge wants to make it clear that there wasn't any lingering ill will toward Griffin, Love or any of the other All-Stars.
"I can't hold anything against those guys because those guys are going out and they're doing their job," he said. "I don't have anything against Blake or Love. Those guys are both really good players. They're both really skilled. They both have a knack to play this game."
Aldridge does, too. Even if some people outside of Portland haven't noticed.
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