The Portland Trail Blazers have caught everyone off guard through the start of the year by coming out and looking like one of the best teams in the NBA. At 18-4, the Blazers have the second-best record in the league and are currently sitting atop the Western Conference.
One of the things that was called into question over the Blazers’ hot start, though, was their strength of schedule. In fairness, Portland wasn’t exactly facing the crème de la crème of the league when they went on their monster winning streak. However, they have still come out and performed in every challenge that’s been put in front of them, even with a few matchups with other upper-tier teams as of late.
On Thursday night, the Blazers have another upper-tier team on the schedule as the welcome the Houston Rockets to Portland. Given the offensive potency and the defensive shortcomings of both teams, it’s pretty safe to assume that this game is going to end in a shootout. If that’s the case, Portland’s star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge could prove to be a difference-maker once again.
Through 22 games, Aldridge has been unbelievable and a key cog in the league’s best offense in terms of efficiency. In 36.7 minutes per game, the forward has averaged 23.2 points, 10 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals. Sure, he’s shooting only 47.8 percent from the floor, but his 52.3 percent true-shooting percentage is certainly solid.
While Aldridge has been successful against just about anyone he’s faced this season, the Rockets present a huge opportunity for the Portland star. With Omer Asik out, Houston is running Terrence Jones and a slew of undersized forwards out at the power forward position. For Aldridge, that has to look like feeding time. Jones has been pretty poor defensively overall this season, not even showing many signs of solid defense which is something even James Harden can say he’s done.
Aldridge is a big-time performer and he’s solidified that already this season. The Blazers would love to come out and continue to silence critics by knocking off another quality team on Thursday. Most likely, they are going to have to simply outscore, rather than stop, the Rockets. If that’s the case, expect Aldridge to get more than his fair share of touches to try and attack the weakest area of Houston’s inconsistent defense.