Blazers are hurting inside

Aldridge's injury exposes problems for Portland




TUALATIN, Ore. — LaMarcus Aldridge nearly buckled over in laughter as he pondered the parallels.

Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews miss one game together on Dec. 10, and the Trail Blazers brick so many 3-point attempts that they make history.

Then on Thursday night, Aldridge sits out a game and the Blazers allow their opponent to slash and flow inside for more easy buckets than any other team in the NBA has scored all season.

“I don’t know what to say to that,” Aldridge said through a fit of chuckles Friday after practice.

Portland’s previous all-time league record for most 3-point misses without a make in a single game (20) transferred to Denver on Thursday night as the Nuggets finished 0-for-22 beyond the arc.

They couldn’t hit a 3-pointer, but the Nuggets certainly finished their chippies. When told that

the Nuggets, who scored all but one of their field goals from inside, finished with 74 points in the paint to set the NBA’s season-high mark, Aldridge popped his eyes as shock replaced the hilarity.

“Oh, wow!” Aldridge responded. “Yeah, that’s tough. Those are some mean stats you throwing at me! Those are some meeaannn stats!”

By breaking conventional basketball wisdom, the Blazers have won these bizarre games without their starters. In fact, with Aldridge still nursing his left ankle back to full health, his teammates withstood Denver’s inside dominance and still extended the winning streak to four games.

A bad shooting night is one thing. Poor defense, however, more likely than not can turn any night into a loss.

So on Friday — after the thrill of a victory had worn off and the video session replayed some of the lowlights on the defensive end — the Blazers (12-12) realized that winning quirky games such as Thursday’s in-the-paint breakdown cannot continue as a season trend.

“It’s not likely. No,” coach Terry Stotts said. “There were a lot of things about that stat sheet last night that if you’d ask me that if you give up that many transition points, fast break points (I’d say) you’re probably not going to win. They outrebounded us, they outshot us, they had fewer turnovers. So that was a very unusual way to win a game.”

In Aldridge’s place, the Blazers started the frontcourt of J.J. Hickson and Joel Freeland with backup center Meyers Leonard also playing 13 minutes, 42 seconds. The knee-jerk blame could stop at the big men, but that response would simplify a team-wide problem.

Each Blazer had his moment — Damian Lillard twice failing to stay in front of Denver’s Andre Miller in half-court sets that turned into points, Batum and Matthews not communicating but laying out a red carpet to the rim on an Andre Iguodala dunk in the first quarter and all 11 players contributing to the slow-to-react transition defense that allowed 31 fast break points.

“We got lucky (on Thursday),” Batum said. “When a team scores one bucket outside the paint, you never see that before.”

“We talked about this when we watched the video, we knew that if we play this game nine more times, we will lose nine times out of 10, for sure,” Batum continued. “(Thursday) was the one time. We got lucky on this one.”

Despite Denver shooting only 38.8 percent from the floor, the Blazers still rank 28th in the league in opponent field-goal percentage mainly because the team struggles to stop those easy scores off the break.

“We kind of got hung up on guarding the same guy a lot. Didn’t rotate and we gave guys an easy path to the basket. In transition, they had some easy run outs,” Aldridge said. “Yeah, we won, but it’s like fool’s good. We do have to fix those things and I think we all saw that.”

After the video session on Friday morning, Aldridge took part in shooting and made light movements on the court. Though Aldridge listed himself as a “game time” decision for Saturday’s matchup against the Phoenix Suns, he sounded optimistic in returning to the lineup — if only to reverse the strangeness that happens when a Blazers starter does not play.

“Hopefully, I’ll play,” said Aldridge, before remembering Thursday’s unpredictable numbers and busting up in laughter once again. “Those are tough stats right there!”