LaMarcus Aldridge

Photo Credit: Virginia Scherer | Daily Texan Staff

With the closing of the All-Star break, the NBA season is rushing to an end with most teams having played 62 out of 82 games. The final stretch is especially important in the hotly-contested Western Conference since only two games separate the third-place Portland Trailblazers from the eighth-place
Denver Nuggets. 

Two players who won’t have to worry about not making the playoffs are Houston Rockets small forward P.J. Tucker and Golden State Warriors small forward Kevin Durant. The Rockets are currently first in the West with a half-game advantage over the Warriors. The two teams have a 12-plus game advantage over
the Trailblazers. 

P.J. Tucker

While he may not be a star, the reliability off the bench from Tucker has helped the Rockets attain the No. 1 seed in the West. Houston has won a league-best 15 games in a row, tied for the second-longest winning streak in team history. The Rockets’ last loss came on Jan. 26 to the
New Orleans Pelicans. 

Tucker’s stats have been solid for a role player during the winning streak, with averages of 6.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.9 assists. Yet the most impressive part of Tucker’s play during the streak has been his ability to shoot 40 percent from the three. This bodes well for the Rockets, who take a league-leading 42.1
threes per game. 

Houston will look to extend its winning streak on Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Kevin Durant

Durant has continued his fantastic play post-All-Star break, averaging 26.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists. Durant is shooting 55.9 percent from the floor and 52.3 percent from three. The Warriors have not lost since the All-Star break, winning each of the five games by an average
of 13.2 points.

Durant’s stellar defense has held up as he continues to build a case for Defensive Player of the Year. His 1.2 blocks per game since the All-Star break leads his team. The Warriors will try to keep the winning streak alive and catch the Rockets when they play the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday. 

LaMarcus Aldridge

The San Antonio Spurs find themselves in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1996-97 season. Having lost three out of their last four games, the Spurs have struggled to find a consistent, healthy lineup to put on the floor. As a result, they currently hold the sixth seed in the West.

Aldridge was recently diagnosed with a sprained ankle, which he sustained during the loss to the New Orleans Pelicans last Wednesday. Aldridge played 13 minutes in the game before being held out with the injury. He did not play in the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night. He was listed as questionable against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night. 

The Spurs will have a tough time holding onto a playoff spot, with two games against the Warriors, two against the Rockets and two against the Thunder in the next few weeks. 

A couple of former Texas Longhorns played nice games in the Association last night. Let’s take a look at the results.

LaMarcus Aldridge – Portland Trailblazers power forward

Lost to Houston Rockets 116-101

Aldridge didn’t have the most efficient game, but he was still effective. It took him 19 shots to pile up 21 points, but as Portland’s franchise player, he’s entitled to take shots at his discretion. One area in which he performed poorly and consequently hurt his team last night was rebounding. This might be Aldridge’s only weakness, and if he can consistently grab eight to 10 boards a night, the Blazers will have a few more possessions to work with.  

Aldridge has been fantastic in Portland’s first four games, posting averages of 24.5 points and 6.7 boards per game. The team's offense relies on the perimeter combo of Aldridge and talented young guard Damian Lillard. These two will have to play well together consistently for this team to have a chance at the playoffs.

Jordan Hamilton — Denver Nuggets small forward

Lost to San Antonio Spurs 102-94 

The former sharpshooting swingman for the Longhorns hasn’t seen much court time so far. The Nuggets, 0-2 coming into this game, are not clicking offensively as many people had expected them to. New head coach Brian Shaw decided to shake things up and give Hamilton a little more playing time last night.  

Hamilton had a successful game in his 23 minutes against the Spurs. He was efficient in shooting the ball, totaling 11 points on six shots, including three for three from beyond the arc. He also did a nice job of limiting guard Danny Green to just four points in 24 minutes. The man he often switched off on, Kawhi Leonard, needed 14 shots to score 14 points.  

If Shaw can get Hamilton more consistent minutes, he can be a nice bundle of instant offense off the bench.  

Earlier this week, I discussed why Kevin Durant should and will take home the NBA’s MVP honors this season. Now it’s time to take a look at another former Texas Longhorn great, who has perhaps been and still is the most under-appreciated player in the league: Blazers’ star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

Can he lead his team to the playoffs in a seemingly bottomless Western Conference? Yes.

Will he? I believe so. Barely.

The Blazers, like the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets, are one of those fringe teams in the Western Conference that will compete for the West’s seventh and eighth seeds. I think the Mavs and Blazers will get in over Denver, as they both boast better rosters. I see Portland sneaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed. Here’s why:

I think the Blazers have enough, at least offensively, to snag a playoff spot away from both Denver and the Utah Jazz, mainly because they slightly improved their roster, while their competitors lost key pieces in the summer. The Nuggets lost star guard Andre Iguodala to the Golden State Warriors this offseason, so there will be a noticeable scoring void on their roster. The Jazz lost two critical pieces; center Al Jefferson landed a lucrative deal with the Charlotte Bobcats, while all-star caliber forward Paul Millsap found a new home with the Atlanta Hawks. That’s a ton of size and skill gone from their front court. The Blazers were also able to pry away guard Mo Williams from Utah. He’s a dangerously streaky scorer who can shoot his team back into a game at any time.

Now let’s take a look at the Blazers’ roster itself. Their starting five figures are Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Dorell Wright, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez. That’s a solid starting group; they are athletically gifted and provide explosive and versatile scoring. The bench should be at least average, if not above average. Nicolas Batum, who has improved in each of his five NBA seasons, headlines that group. Mo Williams will be the backup point guard, but can also play effectively at the two, where he is more effective anyway. Swingman Will Barton, out of Memphis, is another athlete who has dramatically improved his game. Guard CJ McCollum, the Blazers’ tenth overall pick this year, is considered to be NBA-ready and should contribute immediately. Forward Thomas Robinson and center Meyers Leonard will bring some much-needed size and interior toughness off the bench.

It should go without saying, but Aldridge is easily one of the top 15 players in the league. He will need to carry this team to the playoffs. He has one of the best supporting casts of his career, but he is still the core of this team and the focus of opposing defenses. For years, the Blazers’ problem has been that Aldridge is consistently their leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker. With as many minutes as he plays – he averaged nearly 38 mpg last season – he will need help in all of these categories. But for perhaps the first time in his career, a large dose of help is entirely possible on a nightly basis.

Bottom line: This team needs to shore up its defense and improve dramatically on the boards, but it has the guns — with two potential all-stars in its starting five — to score with the best offenses in the league. As always, the rotation is eight to nine deep, but still with several fringe players who can put in solid contributions. This is a 45-47 win team that squeaks out the West’s eighth seed.

NBA Draft

Tristan Thompson, left, and Kyrie Irving hold up Cleveland Cavaliers jerseys, Friday, June 24, 2011, in Independence, Ohio. Irving was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA basketball draft and Thompson was the No. 4 overall pick.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Tristan Thompson was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. This selection makes Thompson the third highest selection to come from Texas behind LaMarcus Aldridge in 2006 and Kevin Durant in 2007, who were both chosen second overall.

“We’re very excited for Tristan,” said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. “I’m not sure we’ve seen a player improve so quickly once he came to campus. Tristan is a wonderful person and Cleveland is getting a special individual who will work hard every day.”

The Cavaliers finished second-to-last in the 2010-11 season with a final record of 19-63.

Thompson will join former high school teammate Samardo Samuels on the Cavalier roster. Samuels and Thomson played together in New Jersey at Saint Benedict’s Prep for a year.

“It’s great, especially having a big brother in the situation that I am in right now,” Thompson said. “Having him be almost like a mentor to me that’s had a year under his belt with the NBA — it’ll just help me a lot.”

The Cleveland basketball community has continually expressed their excitement with Thompson’s constant energy on the court and his ability to make game-changing plays. Thompson, who considered staying at Texas another year, is equally pleased with his future with the Cavs.

“Everyone here is upbeat and likes when we run,” Thompson said. “Look at me on the court — I’m like a relentless bulldog. I think we are going to go hand-in-hand like a perfect marriage.”

The road to the NBA Finals got underway Saturday and with five former Longhorns in the postseason, there’s a good chance one of Rick Barnes’ bunch will have some serious hardware come June.

Kevin Durant:

The former college basketball AP Player of the Year leads the Thunder into the postseason looking to avenge an early exit last year at the hands of the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and appears poised to make a strong push for the Finals this time around.

Durantula didn’t waste any time making his presence felt in the playoffs, dropping a postseason career-high 41 points on the Denver Nuggets as Oklahoma City took the first game of its first- round series 107-103 Sunday, the franchise’s first win in a playoff opener since 1998 when the organization called Seattle home.

Durant turned in an MVP-caliber season in 2010-11 and took home the scoring title for the second year in a row after averaging 27.7 points per game. The fourth-year pro also averaged 6.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Combine those figures with his league-best scoring mark and Durant ranks fifth in the NBA with those totals.

Behind Durant, the Thunder (55-27) won five more games than a season ago and secured the fourth seed in the West.

Look for the former Texas great to cause defenders some major headaches this postseason as he tries to bring Oklahoma City to new heights.

LaMarcus Aldridge:

Aldridge and the injury-ravaged Trail Blazers came on strong after the All-Star break, and the fifth-year pro looks ready to continue making a name for himself this postseason.

The power forward put on a show Saturday in Dallas in his return to his hometown and scored 27 points while pulling in six rebounds. But it was not enough to stop the Mavericks as sixth-seeded Portland dropped Game 1 89-81.

Aldridge had a career year for the Trail Blazers and led the team in scoring with 21.8 points per contest while putting up career highs in points, rebounds (8.8), free-throw shooting percentage and field-goal shooting percentage. The second overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft only missed one game for the Blazers, who were hit hard by the injury bug once again.

Portland will be hard-pressed to outlast Dallas in a seven-game series, but don’t be surprised if Aldridge becomes a household name before his time is up this season.

Avery Bradley:

The 20-year-old has the best shot of any former Longhorn to kiss the Larry O’Brien trophy as the Celtics try to erase last season’s close call and march towards banner No. 18.

Bradley’s rookie season had its share of ups and downs, but growing pains were expected with little room for playing time on a Boston squad laden with veterans and future Hall of Famers. But the point guard saw action in 31 games and head coach Doc Rivers pegged Bradley as a defensive stopper. In the regular season finale against New York, Bradley showcased the ability that made him the 19th-overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft, scoring 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting and coming up with a pair of steals.

But don’t expect Bradley to see much time on the court for Boston this postseason.

Dexter Pittman:

The rookie center may be the luckiest Longhorn in the league after being drafted my Miami and taking his talents to South Beach along with two-time NBA MVP LeBron James to win the “King” a ring in year one of the “Heatles.”

Pittman rode the Heat bench in his rookie season while logging just 11 minutes in two games. He also saw time in the D-League with Sioux Falls, averaging 14.5 points and 8.2 rebounds in 22 games.

Barring injuries to almost all of the Miami big men, Pittman will enjoy the Heat’s postseason ride from the pine.

Royal Ivey:

Ivey is one of the Thunder’s elder statesmen and head coach Scott Brooks will lean on the former Longhorn’s experience to get Oklahoma City out of the first round.

The defensive specialist played a limited role this season, appearing in 25 games. But the Thunder is a young bunch and Ivey’s veteran presence in the locker room is the reason he has a roster spot as he continues to groom young guards such as Eric Maynor and Russell Westbrook.

Ivey’s biggest playoff contribution will be his knowledge of opposing Denver point guard Raymond Felton as the two went at it during their time in the Southeast Division.

Despite playing on a team depleted by injuries, former Texas star LaMarcus Aldridge has kept the Portland Trail Blazers afloat this year with his strong play.

His efforts, though, were not enough to earn him a reserve spot on the Western Conference All-Star team. The list of back-ups for the upcoming NBA All-Star game were announced Thursday night, and Aldridge was among the notable snubs. Beating him out for the final spots at the forward position were Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and rookie Blake Griffin.

Aldridge was snubbed despite averaging 21 points and nine rebounds a game through the first half of the season.