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Matthews & Aldridge Proving Doubters Wrong

I’ll be one of the first to say being a Trail Blazer fan right now isn’t easy; back-to-back home losses to the Miami Heat and New York Knicks leave the Trail Blazers barely over .500 and only ahead of the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves in the Northwest divisional race, and Nate McMillan rarely seems to make the right in-game adjustments. But while many in the organization continue to desperately search for answers, none of this can erase the dynamic play of defensive-minded guard Wesley Matthews and all-star caliber veteran forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

Before the season began, many people were displeased the Blazers signed a player as young and inexperienced as Matthews to such a big contract. But Matthews hasn’t just earned a starting spot; he prides himself on outworking every one of his opponents and teammates, and his stellar defensive play, along with his three-point shooting and ability to drive past numerous defenders simultaneously for lay-up after lay-up, has Blazer fans wondering why he was so overlooked coming out of Marquette. The numbers speak for themselves and certainly prove why Wesley is worth every penny he signed for: He’s averaging 15.8 points and 1.15 steals per game, and he’s shooting a solid 36.8% from the three-point line and 85.2% on free throws.

The knock on Aldridge coming into the season was that he wasn’t playing physical enough. Everyone loves LaMarcus’s moves and jump shots along the baseline, but people were tired of seeing him get outrebounded and not being able to make plays out of the double-team. It only added fuel to the fire when LaMarcus decided against working out with the national team last summer, but ever since all-star guard Brandon Roy’s injury, Aldridge has made the most of his opportunity to lead the team, and his play has been especially exceptional this month. At one point LaMarcus even led the league in dunks, and there’s no doubt he deserves to stand proudly alongside the rest of the Western Conference all-stars next month. He’s averaging 20.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.23 blocks and 1.05 steals per game.

One might say part of the reason the Blazers aren’t winning more games is because #2 and #12 don’t usually play their best games on the same night, but I honestly don’t think Matthews and Aldridge deserve any criticism at this time. They have played at a consistently high level, well above and beyond what most people thought was even remotely possible for them this season, and they already received a lot of criticism early on, whether it was warranted or not. Considering the Blazers have been struggling mightily to find an identity, we should be directing any criticisms we might have towards other players who aren’t playing up to their potential on a regular basis and don’t seem to be embracing the same work ethic Matthews and Aldridge have.

Most of the media attention this season has been swallowed up by the “Big Three” in South Beach, and the rest of the major headlines usually concern the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics or San Antonio Spurs, playoff-tested teams that are all playing at extremely high levels; most people outside of Oregon don’t even give the Blazers a second thought, because Roy is out yet again due to his fragile knees. But those who look past all the hoopla and commotion will notice that at times, Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge are one of the most lethal tandems in the NBA who are leading a team with enough young talent and firepower to play with any team in the league.

Just last week in a 108-98 road victory over the T’wolves, Matthews scored a career-high 36 points, shot 7-10 from downtown, grabbed 5 boards and had a steal. Not to be outdone, Aldridge finished with 28 points, 4 assists, 10 boards and a steal of his own. If you overlook these guys, they will burn you, and if they continue to play better as the season progresses, it might just be a little easier to forget about what might have been had the Blazers drafted Kevin Durant.

--Brett Hochstetler

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