PORTLAND — Fitting this was the last Blazers game before Christmas Day. Their win over Milwaukee Monday night was gift-wrapped.
Portland may have been without Brandon Roy, Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla — three NBA veterans sidelined with respective knee, shoulder and ankle injuries. But the Bucks’ lineup was devoid of Brandon Jennings and Corey Maggette, both of whom average double-digit scoring (Jennings is the team’s leading scorer and chief playmaker), and both of whom suffered injuries just one game earlier.
But the Blazers didn’t just open this present, they tore it apart like a seven-year-old expecting a Playstation — demolishing Milwaukee, 106-80, and extending their winning streak to three.
“I feel like we’ve been able to fill in for guys that have been out, and they’ve played great basketball,” said Blazers coach Nate McMillan, whose past three opponents have a combined record of 25-57. “We’ve always said it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up, and these guys have done that.”
One guy in particular.
Whether you view him as a rising star or a bully pushing around bad teams, you can’t discount LaMarcus Aldridge’s production over the past week.
It started with a 35-point, 10 rebound game in Dallas Wednesday, continued with a 36-point, 10 board effort vs. Minnesota Friday, persisted with a modest 17 points and 12 rebounds vs. Golden State Saturday, and was capped off Monday with 29 points and a career-high 19 boards.
The best stretch of his career?
“Definitely. I would say this is the best I have played as far as points in the paint, going to the basket, getting to the free-throw line. I think all of those things are pretty high right now,” Aldridge said. “This is the best I’ve played.”
Aldridge emphasized how something just “clicked” in Dallas after he hit a 20-foot jump shot in the third quarter, subsequently skyrocketing his confidence. Of course, the self-assurance is pretty much necessary given his team’s dwindling roster.
“I’ve always been confident, but lately we’re so depleted that I feel like I have to be confident or we’re not going to win,” added Aldridge, who played 44 minutes despite the scoring disparity. “So I have to be a little bit overly confident in my play and my teammates play.”
And lately, his teammates have given him a lot to be optimistic about.
Wesley Matthews chipped in 22 points for Portland (15-14) Monday, 13 of which came in the first quarter where he was 5 of 6 from the field and 3 of 4 from 3-point distance. Rudy Fernandez, meanwhile, added 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting.
Fernandez entered the game averaging 7.1 points per game this season. But over the past three games in which he has seen significant playing time due to Roy’s injury — he has averaged 18.6.
He hopes people are taking notice.
“This is probably a big deal for me,” Fernandez said. “You take your opportunity and, right now, I think it is my moment. I take the minutes, I take the shots, I take the ball and I look forward to being on the court … I’m enjoying the game. I have confidence in my plays. I have fun.”
Monday’s key stat may have been the Blazers tallying 27 assists to the Bucks 13 — the most awe-inspiring dime coming in the fourth quarter, when Aldridge finished off an alley-oop via Luke Babbitt with a one-handed jam.
But that was a reflection of the Blazers’ style of play lately, which has been as entertaining as it has been effective.
“We’re pushing the ball in transition, we’re getting up and down the floor so we have guys out there who bring some speed to the floor,” McMilllan said. “We’re getting out and moving.”
Blazers forward Dante Cunningham left the game with a right ankle sprain in the first half and did not return.
John Salmons led Milwaukee (10-16) with 23 points, all in the second half. Bucks center Andrew Bogut, standing 7-feet tall and averaging more than 14 points per game, managed just five points despite Portland’s dearth in big men.
The Blazers, whose next game is at Golden State on Christmas Day, will take today off.
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or matt.calkinscolumbian.com