Aldridge paces the surprising Blazers

The late-game ”M-V-P!” chants are now the norm in Portland for

LaMarcus Aldridge, and the Trail Blazers’ forward is putting up

numbers worthy of such adulation.

The two-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 23.5 points and

10.6 rebounds. He’s leading the way for a surprising Portland team

that sits atop the Western Conference with a 19-4 record. It’s the

Blazers’ best start since they opened the 1990-91 season 21-2.

”He’s playing at a crazy-high level,” teammate Wesley Matthews

said.

The latest victory came Thursday night against the Houston

Rockets, 111-104. Aldridge had 31 points and a career-high 25

rebounds, becoming the first Blazers player ever with 30 or more

points and 25 or more rebounds.

There were no clues that Aldridge was going to have a monster

game. He missed his first five shots and was 1 for 7 from the floor

in the first quarter. But he was quickly picking up rebounds,

grabbing 10 in the first half.

He poured it on in the third quarter with 14 points and nine

rebounds.

”He’s a load,” Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said.

”I don’t think I can remember seeing someone who takes so many

hard, contested, fallaway jump shots and consistently makes them.

He’s really, really good.”

Only Minnesota’s Kevin Love has better averages this season for

points and rebounds combined, with 23.9 points and 13.8

rebounds.

Aldridge has been the Western Conference player of the week

twice this season. In a 111-104 win against Oklahoma City earlier

this month – a victory that snapped an eight-game Thunder winning

streak – he had a season-high 38 points and 13 rebounds, becoming

just the third Blazer with as many points and rebounds in a single

game.

”He was shooting turn-arounds from almost the three-point line

on top of our bigs and knocking them down,” Kevin Durant said

afterward. ”That’s what great players do. They come through in the

clutch and make shots and he’s a shot maker. I’m sure he practices

those shots all the time. It looked like it was great defense on

our part but better offense.”

Aldridge has two games this season with at least 20 points and

20 rebounds. Before the Rockets, he also had 30 points and 21

rebounds in a 113-101 victory over Golden State on Nov. 23.

But according to coach Terry Stotts, Aldridge’s success so far

this season is about more than just stats.

”He’s doing everything that he’s done well before a little bit

better,” Stotts said. ”His performance on the court has been

terrific, but he’s part of the reason we have the good chemistry

that we have. It’s the intangibles that go beyond the points and

the rebounds.”

A seven-year NBA veteran, Aldridge was drafted out of Texas by

Chicago with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft and

immediately traded to Portland.

In his early years in Portland, the softspoken Dallas native was

overshadowed by guard Brandon Roy, who was also in the 2006 draft

class. Roy went on to become the league’s Rookie of the Year and a

three-time All-Star before knee problems cut short his career.

Aldridge has been named to the All-Star roster for the past two

seasons by vote of the coaches. He understands that in the

talent-laden West, it’s difficult for players on smaller market

teams – especially one tucked away in the Pacific Northwest – to

get All-Star fan votes. He was ranked eighth among Western

Conference frontcourt players in the first returns of All-Star

balloting released on Thursday.

Aldridge also understands that his game is a lot like his

personality: quiet and unassuming.

”People probably don’t know who I am, or what I do up here.

Some people probably just don’t like my game. I’m not flashy. I

don’t dunk. I don’t do anything really exciting, you know?” he

said.

Aldridge has been helped this year by the addition of center

Robin Lopez. Whereas Aldridge was double-teamed for much of last

season, the addition of the 7-footer, acquired in a three-team

offseason trade from New Orleans, has provided a distraction for

opposing defenses.

Lopez appears to have benefited from the move, too. He is

averaging 9.5 points and a career-best 8.7 rebounds and he already

has a career-high 10 double-doubles through Portland’s first 23

games.

There were rumors in the offseason that Aldridge wanted to be

traded to a team that could contend but for now that all seems to

be a distant memory.

Earlier this week a young fan in Utah treated the 6-foot-10

forward to his first ”M-V-P!” cheer on the road. In return, the

fan was granted an autograph.

”All those M-V-P chants, he deserves it,” teammate Nicolas

Batum simply said.