Jazz-Trail Blazers Preview

The way LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing, he may end up

warranting discussion for league MVP.

Putting up terrific numbers for a Portland Trail Blazers team

which leads the Western Conference, Aldridge is coming off possibly

his best effort of the season going into Friday night’s home game

against the West-worst Utah Jazz.

“He’s the best power forward in the game,” teammate Wesley

Matthews said. “He’s got to be getting MVP votes with the way we’re

playing, with the level he’s playing at. He’s just willing us right

now. He’s awesome right now.”

Aldridge is averaging career highs of 23.5 points and 9.7

rebounds but has been particularly dominant in three games this

month, averaging 31.0 points on 59.1 percent shooting. The Blazers

won each of those games, defeating two of the league’s top teams,

following a loss at Phoenix which ended an 11-game winning

streak.

Two nights after beating East-leading Indiana, Portland halted

Oklahoma City’s eight-game win streak with a 111-104 victory

Wednesday behind Aldridge’s season-high 38 points and 13 boards. He

made a career-best 17 field goals in 28 attempts and even handed

out a season-high five assists.

“Offensively, obviously he can score,” coach Terry Stotts said.

“But I liked his toughness, I liked his leadership, I liked his

competitive fire. As much as he played very well, it was a lot of

the intangibles that I really appreciated from him.”

Portland (16-3) knows that when its star forward dominates,

things can open up offensively for others. The Trail Blazers shoot

41.0 percent from 3-point range, third-best in the NBA, and are

among the league leaders at 105.0 points per game.

They’re also doing the little things well, ranking in the top 10

in the NBA in rebounds and assists, while placing near the bottom

in fouls and turnovers.

Still, the Trail Blazers know that Aldridge is the engine that

runs the team.

“I don’t want to forecast any wins or anything, but when

(Aldridge) plays like that, and he’s been playing like that for a

few weeks now, we’re going to be tough to beat,” said center Robin

Lopez, who has three double-doubles in the last four games.

It doesn’t appear the Jazz (4-16) have the offensive punch to

keep up with Portland. Utah is scoring a West-low 91.2 points per

game, including a league-worst 88.7 in road contests.

The Jazz had been 0-9 in road games until winning their last

one, 112-104 at Phoenix on Saturday, and have played much better

since rookie point guard Trey Burke had his minutes extended.

The reigning NCAA player of the year missed the team’s first 12

games because of a fractured index finger. He’s started the last

six and has averaged 33.5 minutes in the past five, putting up 16.2

points and 5.0 assists per game as Utah has gone 3-2.

Burke has just two turnovers over the last four games while the

Jazz have averaged 13.0, compared to 17.8 through their first 16

games.

“(Trey) does a good job out there controlling the offense,” said

Derrick Favors, who had 22 points and 13 rebounds in Wednesday’s

95-86 loss to Indiana. “He takes a lot of pressure off myself and

Gordon (Hayward) as being a facilitator and scorer. He’s a

pick-and-roll type player, so I know if I set good screens, he’s

going to get a shot or I’m going to get a shot.”

Burke had a career-high nine assists Wednesday.

Utah has won seven of eight versus the Trail Blazers, though

Aldridge didn’t play in four of those contests because of

injuries.