LaMarcus Aldridge is peaking just in time before his second All-Star appearance. Aldridge's scoring totals have climbed through the Blazers' six games through February. On Sunday in Orlando, he scored 25 in the loss and now Aldridge averages 21.1 points per game, a half point better than his scoring average at the end of January.
The man is playing like he belongs in Houston when the NBA stars align for the Feb. 16 game — so, why isn't he making his free throws like an All-Star?
After knocking down the winning shot against Dallas on January 29 — Portland's last game of the month — Aldridge was an 82-percent free throw shooter. However in February, Aldridge has made just 16 of 30 shots from the foul line and his season average has dipped by nearly five percentage points to 78.5.
Think of the Feb. 4 Minnesota game as the narrator to this foul saga. In that matchup, Aldridge made his first attempt at the 5:09 mark of the third quarter, then missed his next four which included an empty trip to the line with 6.7 seconds remaining in the game in which the Blazers held a slim 100-98 lead.
Aldridge may be one of the best in the league, but the captain isn't clutch at the free-throw line. When the Blazers are tied or behind by five points or less in the last five minutes, Aldridge is only a 60-percent foul shooter — his highest mark in a close-game situation. However, those numbers decline when the clock winds down. Aldridge shots just 33.3 percent from the stripe when the Blazers are ahead or behind by three points in the final 30 seconds.
And since we're talking about free-throw shooting, kudos to Damian Lillard who has connected on 30 of 31 foul shots over the past 11 games. Do the math — he's only getting to the line about two times a night, but at least he's making the most of his few trips to the line.
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Meyers Leonard — 20-year-old rookie Meyers Leonard, by the way — forcing veteran official Mark Ayotte to whistle Houston for a second delay-of-game call last Friday night.
Chandler Parsons had just popped a 3-pointer to give the Rockets the 80-66 lead in the third quarter when Houston center Omer Asik tapped the ball into the baseline before Leonard could retrieve it for the inbounds play. Leonard immediately spread his arms and barked at Ayotte, who responded by blowing his whistle. Leonard then lifted two fingers into the air to remind Ayotte — and everyone inside the Toyota Center — that it was in fact the second delay-of-game infraction and thus a technical foul shot for the Blazers.
How many rookies would be cognizant enough at that moment to remember Houston had already committed one delay infraction, let alone how many would have the brass to argue for the call?
You go, Leonard.
The defensive effort could stand a tweak or two. In the three previous games before Sunday, the Blazers ranked 28th in opponent field-goal percentage. In Houston, with one starter on the floor during a second-quarter stretch, Lillard fired a three and James Harden grabbed the miss. All five guys raced back — or so it seemed — Harden drew a crowd but Luke Babbitt forgot his man. So, a wide-open Parsons sank a 3-pointer. Blowing assignments and allowing opponents to average 54-percent from the floor — not good.
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Before every game during this road trip, Nicolas Batum has strapped a protective brace over his right wrist. The MRI results were negative, but the wrist still clearly pains Batum as he has passed up shots. Before Sunday's game, Batum attempted eight or less shots for four of the past five games.