LA rising: Portland’s star stealing show in playoffs
Rip City may have a LaMarcus Aldridge statue already built in Portland before the Trail Blazers return later this week. The national spotlight shines on Oregon right now, and Aldridge is the early star of the playoffs. He’s certainly overshadowing the heightened play of Dwight Howard, and he’s magnified the struggles of James Harden.
If the Mavericks continue their bizarre morph into a defensive dynasty stopper, the path out west for the Blazers could be a bit lighter. Dallas has surprisingly controlled its now-tied series against No. 1 San Antonio. Meanwhile the Heat, the other half of last year’s Finals matchup, still look too good for their East competition.
Blazers lead series 2-0
Takeaway: Rip City has all the momentum. The chatter is about how these two teams mirror one another so much and, while that’s true, Portland has one significant difference: Aldridge. The guy who never has received enough credit for what he quietly produces in the Northwest is finally on center stage. And in two games, he has 89 points and 26 rebounds. Sit on that for a moment. It’s not crazy to call Aldridge a top-five player in the playoffs. Maybe that’s far too reactionary, but name five other guys you’d take ahead of him.
Star review: If James Harden doesn’t get it going, Houston doesn’t stand a chance — if only for the fact that he takes up such a heavy share of the offense. The Rockets’ offensive superstar seems to be forcing it, and he’s shooting 29.8 percent (14-of-47) in this series. The rest of the Rockets are shooting 45.9 percent as a team. The one guy you can’t blame is Dwight Howard, who had 32 points and 14 rebounds in Game 2, shooting 13-of-22 from the field and even hitting 6-of-7 free throws.
Looking ahead: Game 3, Friday at 10:30 p.m. EST
Portland’s crowd may actually implode for its first home game, and when it does, the Rockets likely will do the same. That floor will shake for Howard’s free throws and when Harden takes one of his poor looks.
Heat lead series 2-0
Takeaway: Let’s drop the assortment of complexities that we sometimes allow to fog what’s obvious: The Heat just have way more talent than the Bobcats. The two-time defending champs are of the heavyweight variety and the Bobcats are of an entirely lighter class. Maybe the biggest difference is simply LeBron James, who also happens to be one of history’s most elite players and in his prime. James went for 32 points and eight assists Wednesday. And of course, he got help from Dwyane Wade (15 points, 6 rebounds) and Chris Bosh (20 points, 5 rebounds). This third-best superstar thing certainly has its rewards for Bosh. As James draws double teams, Bosh sags in open space and showcases that nice perimeter game of his. He doesn’t need to eat up the offensive lane, and it’s why he’s the perfect big for that team.
Star review: You want to root for the Bobcats because they’re the dark horse. But also because you know they worked too hard for fate to deal this first-round matchup against the Heat and to have team MVP Al Jefferson play through a painful injury that just keeps getting worse (even if his 18 and 10 numbers are still impressive). The laws of basketball may not seem fair when you see the Bobcats dealt these losses, but there’s also the hope of the future if this team can add one more elite scorer.
Looking ahead: Game 3, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST
Controlling the schedule of your part-timers is always a headache. Wade has played 34.5 minutes per game in each of the first two, and with a 2-0 series lead it will be interesting to see if Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gambles with Wade’s minutes. It may be worth risking the sweep to save Wade for later rounds, or at least take him off the floor if games turn to blowouts.
Series tied 1-1
Takeaway: It just doesn’t seem right that on the same night Gregg Popovich received his Coach of the Year trophy, his Spurs would be completely out-Spurred. San Antonio looked like a foreign substance on its home floor, losing the turnover battled 24-8 to Dallas. The Spurs lacked that "efficiency swagger," shooting 43.2 percent from the field and just 17.6 percent (3-of-17) from behind the arc. San Antonio is shooting poorly and giving away possessions, and doing it against the worst defensive team in the playoffs? That’s just strange. Somehow, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has figured out a way to poke a stick in the Spurs’ machine.
Star review: Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis looked much sharper from the floor Wednesday, but Dallas’ offense was anchored by more unexpected scoring from Devin Harris (18 points) and a very Spurs-like veteran performance by Shawn Marion (8-of-10 for 20 points). While Dallas is spreading its scoring, only the big three of the Spurs scored in double figures on Wednesday. That has to speak to a hitch in the system.
Looking ahead: Game 3, Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST
Pop’s Spurs are consistently the best in the league when it comes to game-to-game adjustments. So the Game 2 home flop comes as a surprise. Dallas also led by double digits in the fourth quarter of Game 1, so the Spurs are lucky they’re not down 2-0 at this point. That being said, it’s hard to imagine the Spurs’ veterans not being ready when this series picks up in Dallas.
Follow the NBA playoffs with Jimmy Spencer on Twitter @JimmySpencerNBA.