TUALATIN, Ore. — Wesley Matthews insists that LaMarcus Aldridge is going to “step up” against the Mavericks in Game 6 tonight. But if you look at the Trail Blazer forward’s postseason thus far, he’s generally been stepping down.
In fact, his stat lines from game to game in this first-round series vs. the Mavericks more or less resemble a downward staircase. Game 1: 27 points. Game 2: 24 points. Game 3: 20 points. Game 4: 16 points. Game 5: 12 points. Game six?
You get the point.
About four months ago, Aldridge morphed into one of the elite power forwards in the NBA and single-handedly vaulted Portland to playoff-caliber status. He earned Western Conference Player of the Month honors for February and was getting top 10 consideration in Most Valuable Player discussions.
And in a league in which postseason success so often hinges on performances from its stars, one might think Aldridge would view tonight’s game vs. Dallas as a potentially distinguishing moment for him.
He, however, does not.
“Nah, I don’t feel like this is a defining moment for me. I’m sorry if I should,” said Aldridge, whose team trails the series three games to two. “It’s a team sport. I didn’t get here by myself. I feel like this is a defining moment for our team.”
Aldridge’s averages of 20.2 points and 7 rebounds in the playoffs aren’t too divergent from the 21.8 and 8.8 he posted during the regular season. But he does appear to be growing more and more fatigued as the postseason progresses — Blazers coach Nate McMillan acknowledging as much Tuesday afternoon.
But teammates don’t seem particularly concerned with the prospect of tired legs. As Matthews asserted Wednesday: “I don’t hold ‘tired’ to LA. Whether he’s tired or not, he’s been getting it done all season.”
And that’s a point Marcus Camby emphasized, as well — that because Aldridge has been such a consistent performer throughout the the year, putting added pressure on him to supply a breakout playoff performance is unfair.
“He’s been our guy all season long. What more can he possibly do? In my opinion, he was robbed as an All-Star and robbed of being the Most Improved Player,” Camby said. “He’s had a phenomenal season. … You can’t put all that pressure on him. He’s been the focal point of the whole defense and is still getting the job done.”
Aldridge isn’t the only Blazers forward whose production in recent games has fallen short of expectations. In Games 3 and 4, Gerald Wallace scored a combined 17 points on 5-of-15 shooting, and while he tallied 16 points in Game 5, most of them came during a meaningless fourth quarter.
After adding Wallace to the lineup, the Blazers went 11-5 in the regular season against playoff-bound teams, as opposed to their 8-19 mark against said opponents before him. But that spark he provided has been temporarily extinguished. And he knows it.
“I think I got a lot more to give. I’m kind of down on myself because I’m struggling offensively, just to get myself going in the offense,” Wallace said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been like this; for a while the ball always came through me, so you just shoot your way out of it. But in this situation, you do what you can do help the team.”
The Blazers have won a championship, lost in the Finals twice, lost in the Conference finals three times, and are in the midst of their 43rd playoff series. One thing they’ve never done, however, is come back from being down three games to two.
This likely speaks to the difficulty of pulling off such an achievement more than it suggests a franchise curse.
“I didn’t play back then,” Brandon Roy said. “I don’t even really think about last year. I only think about this team and this year.”