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Ball Don't Lie

LaMarcus Aldridge needs to step up his game, isn’t thinking about it

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Throughout this season, LaMarcus Aldridge took it upon himself to become a true star, the best player on the Blazers in the wake of several huge knee injuries to presumed franchise mainstay Brandon Roy (and Greg Oden, if you count him). Accomplishing that feat made him the big name for the Blazers in their first-round series against the Mavericks. If they were to pull off the upset, he was likely to be the reason.

Dallas now leads the series at 3-2, with Game 6 set to tip off Thursday night in Portland. Despite the series being tight, though, Aldridge has 20.2 ppg and 7.0 rpg. If those numbers sound good, please note that Aldridge is shooting 46.7 percent from the field and has seen his scoring numbers drop with each successive game.

With the Blazers facing elimination Thursday night, Aldridge needs to step up. Except he is not really thinking about it. From Matt Calkins for The Columbian:

"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. [...]

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."

As Calkins notes, Aldridge's averages for the series are not terribly far off his regular-season averages of 21.8 ppg and 8.8 rpg. Given the five-game sample size, it's tough to say that Aldridge is failing his team. He could have a good Game 6 and see his averages rise even higher than his season marks. If he does that, will he be great again?

Still, there is something a little weird about LMA's progressive worsening over the course of the series from 27 points in Game 1 to 12 points in Game 5. That drop could be explained by the fact that defenses get to key in on stars over a seven-game series, adjusting their game plans based on previous performances. Coaches get to focus on one team, rather than the many they must track during the regular season. It makes sense that certain players would see their numbers drop over the course of the series.

The trouble here is that, even with these drops, Aldridge is playing reasonably similar to how he did during the season. Any criticism directed his way arises from the bizarre point of view that the real stars need to play better in the playoffs, and that anyone who doesn't is somehow a failure. This is unfair -- it presents a fanbase's desires as logical expectations for an athlete's performance. In truth, the playoffs are an assortment of games, and performance can be expected to meet a player's average production over a larger sample size.

In other words, Aldridge has not suddenly become a failure over the last week. He is the same player he was during the regular season. If he can't perform well Thursday night, it doesn't change the fact that he carried the Blazers to a better-than-expected win-loss record this season. If he scores fewer than 30 points Thursday night, he's still the team's best player and a rising star.

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