Posted Apr 28 2011 10:14AM
PORTLAND -- Someone foolishly asked LaMarcus Aldridge if he was tired, if he'd had enough of trying to carry the load for the Portland Trail Blazers on offense and guarding Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki on defense.
It wasn't meant as a slight to Aldridge, it was simply an observation. Aldridge is playing 43 minutes a night, toting a huge load as the Blazers' No. 1 offensive option and is charged with trading elbows and forearm shivers with not only Nowitzki but also Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood.
And now, with the Blazers' season on the line tonight at the Rose Garden in a win-or-go-home Game 6 in this first round playoff series, you want to know if the budding star is gassed?
"That's what I do, I play both ends of the floor, that's the type of player I am," Aldridge said, responding to the initial query with one eyebrow raised slightly. "I'm fine. Both teams are a little beat up and tired. It's a physical series. I just have to take care of my body and I'll be fine."
The Blazers need Aldridge to be more than just fine against the Mavericks. They need him to be exceptional. They need him to play like the All-Star he should have been this season and the anchor he was throughout yet another injury-plagued regular season for the Blazers' other star, Brandon Roy. They need him to have one of those magical nights like Roy had in Game 4, when he exploded for 18 fourth quarter points to lead the Blazers back from a 23-point deficit for a dramatic win.
It won't be easy. The Mavericks realized after Game 1 that if they allowed Aldridge to have his way offensively they'd be in serious trouble during this series. After Aldridge scored 12 points on lob plays in Game 1, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle made sure his big men pushed the 6-foot-11 Aldridge as far away from the basket as possible.
The tactic worked. Aldridge's scoring numbers have declined in every game, from 27 in the opener to 24, 20, 18 and 12 in that Game 5 loss Monday night in Dallas. Toss in his 43 minutes during this series and the 39.6 minutes he played in the regular season and whether Aldridge realizes it or not, his fatigue factor is very real. A 50 percent shooter form the floor during the regular season, Aldridge is shooting just 42.8 percent in the last four games of this series.
He's played a league-high 3,426 minutes this season, much of that spent pounding on 7-footers and getting pounded on by those same 7-footers. Even in this series he's facing Nowitzki on the defensive end while Nowitzki gets a breather on defense, with Chandler and Haywood being used to guard Aldridge most of the time.
The Mavericks' best defensive work on Aldridge has come in the fourth quarters of this series. He's averaging just 3.8 points in the final, critical 12 minutes of games that, for the most part, have been decided down that stretch. Only the .8 is coming in the paint, more proof that the Mavericks' defensive focus on pushing Aldridge away from the basket is working like a charm. Aldridge has shot just 20 free throws this entire series, which would seem like a preposterously low number for a player who has been on the floor and with the ball as much as he has.
Again, the fatigue factor comes into question. Blazers coach Nate McMillan mentioned it after Game 5, saying Aldridge looked tired before adding, "Everyone is tired. It's the playoffs. It's time to suck it up."
Roy knows that Aldridge needs some help, too. He said as much after Game 4 and then again after Game 5.
"We've leaned on him all season," Roy said. "And I know that's been tough on him, tough on his body. It has to take a toll on you. I talked to him about that before this series started. He's going to be our first option on one end and then guarding their No. 1 That's why I probably need to be more aggressive (in Game 6) and think about taking those shots instead of passing. I've got to pick my spots and be more aggressive. Maybe that's more of the answer than driving and kicking. Maybe that takes some of the pressure off of LaMarcus, because he's got a tough task."
Aldridge did have two days between games to rest up a little bit. And he's counting on a serious energy boost from the Rose Garden faithful. But he's also ready to dig deep to make sure the Blazers' season lasts for at least a couple more days, long enough for one more trip back to his hometown for Game 7 Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
"Home court has been the edge in this series," Aldridge said. "We've got it on our side now and we have to make the most of it."
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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