Does Aldridge breakout year mean playoff success?
Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge is from Dallas, which may explain why he's played some of his best games against the Mavericks. A hometown pride kind of thing.
Then again, perhaps his success is the result of poor matchups, or simply an anomaly.
Even Aldridge is stumped.
''I don't know what it is,'' he said. ''Just playing well. Hopefully I will play well now, too.''
Aldridge and the Blazers travel to Dallas to face the Mavericks in the opening game of their first-round playoff series on Saturday.
Aldridge has averaged 27.8 points in the four-game season series against the Mavericks. The home team has won in each of the games, putting the series at 2-all.
His success against Dallas highlights a breakthrough in the 6-foot-11 power forward's career. Aldridge, in his fifth NBA year, is leading the Blazers with an average of 21.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game.
''We want the ball in LA's hands,'' forward Gerald Wallace said. ''We want him to finish for us. He can make the big shots.''
While in the past he has played in the shadow of three-time All-Star Brandon Roy, Aldridge has accepted a leadership role this season while Roy has struggled with knee injuries and a diminished presence.
Aldridge can trace his emergence this season back to the Blazers' Dec. 15 game at Dallas. While the Blazers lost 103-98, Aldridge scored 35 points and had 10 rebounds. It was also Roy's last game before sitting the next 30 because of his knee problems.
Aldridge went on to average 23.8 points and 9.2 rebounds over the season's next four months. Over the stretch, Aldridge was named Western Conference Player of the Week twice. He was the conference's Player of the Month for February - joining Clyde Drexler as Portland's only recipients of the honor.
Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki says he is a fan.
''He took it to the next level this year by really pounding it in the paint. I think he really gets deep in the paint. When Roy went out with the injury, he took the team on his back,'' Nowitzki said. ''He had a great season, probably deserved to be an All-Star. That's the high level he played on.''
On Jan. 4, Aldridge had 28 points and 10 rebounds in an 84-81 Mavs win again in Dallas. He had 30 points and eight rebounds in a 104-101 victory in Portland on March 15, before closing out the regular season series with 18 points and eight rebounds in a 104-96 victory on April 3.
The second overall pick in 2006 acquired by the Blazers in a draft-day deal with the Chicago Bulls, Aldridge is well ahead of where he was last season, when he averaged 17.9 points and eight rebounds per game.
Last year when the Blazers faced Phoenix in the playoffs, Aldridge was unexpectedly thrust into a starring role when Roy had arthroscopic knee surgery just before the opening game. Even though Roy made a dramatic return in Game 4, the Blazers were bounced by the Suns in six games.
This season, it would seem that Aldridge is better prepared to lead his team.
''This is where he is. So is he? I can't answer that until we get in the game,'' coach Nate McMillan said. ''But he has taken on the role this year for us. This year he will be going into the playoffs as that guy.''
Aldridge also deflects the assertion.
''I don't see it any different this year,'' he said. ''I think we have to have everybody. The playoffs aren't won by one person, or by two. It's by the whole team.''
This season, while assuming a new role on the court, Aldridge has also seen dramatic changes in his personal life.
He became a father last summer. His mother, Georgia, has been battling cancer and he's dedicated his season to her. Because his mom has been unable to fly, she hasn't seen him play much this season. But she'll be able to attend the playoff games at American Airlines Center.
When Aldridge was a kid, he played about 15 minutes from the neighborhood where the arena stands today. He still lives in the Dallas area in the offseason.
So is all of that - his development as the team's go-to guy combined with the local ties - giving him pause as he readies to face Dallas? Not really.
''I'm probably harder on myself than anyone else could be,'' he said. ''So I just have to go out and try to do what I've done all season. And that's to be consistent.''