Player of the week
Just when you thought Damian Lillard was going to hit the rookie wall, he opened February with four great games. Averaging 22.3 ppg, 6.3 apg and shooting 46 % from the floor, Lillard has proven to be the guy to go to when the offense is stalling. Against Utah last Friday, the young point guard single-handedly kept Portland in the game. His 20 second-half points made it close and even though Portland eventually lost, Lillard’s second-half performance carried over into the next night when the Blazers played Utah again and won.
You could also argue LaMarcus Aldridge for player of the week. He’s recorded six straight double-doubles (his longest streak in two years) and his clutch play down the stretch against Minnesota; a long, go-ahead jumper and stellar defense in the last two possessions were key factors in Portland hanging on to the win.
Play of the week
Once again it goes to Aldridge. With Portland clinging to a two-point lead, Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio worked the high pick-and-roll with center Nikola Pekovic. This created a switch where Aldridge now had to chase the speedy Rubio as he ran circles in the paint.
Instead of leaving him or biting on a pump-fake, Aldridge remained calm, timed his jump perfectly and blocked Rubio’s shot at the rim. Aldridge is typically better defensively in man-to-mand situations rather than in recovery defense. But on the Rubio play and the final possession guarding Dante Cunningham, the All-Star showed that when it matters most, he can rise to the occasion.
Nicolas Batum’s nagging injury
It’s been quite apparent in the last few games that Nicolas Batum is having a problem with his shooting wrist. He’s constantly grimacing and holding it following a shot or rebound. While he is finding other ways to contribute, his shot attempts have plummeted over the past week.
With his injury and Wesley Matthews’ ankle-sprain last Friday, the All-Star break can’t come soon enough. No other team in the league can afford to lose one of its starters and if Portland has any notion of making the playoffs, they need all five starters healthy.
The unwritten rules of the NBA
On Tuesday night, the Houston Rockets were having a historical night shooting threes. With a couple minutes left in the game, the team tied an NBA record with their 23rd 3-pointer. For those last few possessions, with nothing but bench-warmers in the game, their one goal was to break that record. But their opponent, the Golden-State Warriors, didn’t take too kindly to that.
Warriors’ coach Mark Jackson instructed his team to intentionally foul the Rockets every time they inbounded the ball to prevent them from even having an opportunity to take a 3-point shot. Some words were exchanged, a couple of flagrant fouls ensued, and the blowout game turned into a bit of a circus. When the game mercifully ended, Houston fans were actually booing despite their team winning 140-109.
This bizarre ending reminded me of a Blazers and Bulls game played in November. With Portland up six with just a few seconds to go, rookie Damian Lillard dribbled the ball across half court. But instead of standing their to wait for the clock to run out, Lillard kept going and drove to the basket for an uncontested dunk. Taj Gibson of the Bulls was not happy about this and confronted Lillard. The players had to be separated and at one point, Nate Robinson pulled Lillard aside and no doubt explained to the young player that that was not okay.
Every sport deals with so-called unwritten rules. In baseball, stealing a base when your team is up by 12 runs shows poor form. In football, throwing a deep ball with your team up 30 points is considered “running up the score.” These kinds of situations are always tricky. On the one hand, why should a team with a big lead suddenly stop doing what’s worked up to that point and ease off the gas? It’s the other team’s job to stop them.
On the other hand, there’s a respect factor that goes into play where instead of beating an opponent down, you show good sportsmanship by conceding victory and getting the game over as quickly as possible.
What Lillard did was purely youthful ignorance. The look on his face after Gibson confronted him was of true bewilderment. He didn’t know any better. But the Blazers play Chicago again in March. You better believe they remember what Lillard did. Hopefully there’s no hard fouls or confrontations. Get revenge by simply beating them and then move on.