LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol

Could LaMarcus Aldridge win MVP? Well, no, but let’s talk about it anyway

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Welcome to today’s “There’s a week left until training camp and I’d chew my own arm off if it meant I could blog about it” post.

Blazers Edge posted a link to a story on Rip City Project on Saturday night. It contained the following passage regarding LaMarcus Aldridge and a possible MVP bid:

It never ceases to amaze me how we go into seemingly every NBA season now with the hopes that Aldridge will finally get his due, but it never quite seems to materialize in the way that it should.  Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are the flashy up-and-comers whom most NBA fans seem to recognize and heap praise on. And although Aldridge is every bit as good (and probably better) than both of them, he never seems to get the respect he deserves.  Maybe that’s due in part to growing up in the NBA with Roy and Oden as far more recognizable teammates, but if so, the time for that is past.  Last season, the Blazers cut the cord with their past, and chose to move into a new era that has Aldridge as the central figure.

Sometimes perception is just as important as numbers when you talk about someone having an MVP-type season.  While Griffin and Love may put up bigger numbers, neither guy is as good as Aldridge on defense, and his arsenal of offensive attacks is far more vast than what either of his counterparts has to offer. Part of that is due to having more years in the league to develop, but because of Aldridge’s more well rounded game, the other two guys should not be mentioned before him in MVP talk.

Now, I’m not saying he will win an MVP, but wondering if he’s capable of having an MVP-type year.

via LaMarcus Aldridge: MVP Candidate, or Borderline All-Star? – Rip City Project – A Portland Trailblazers Fan Site – News, Blogs, Opinion and More.

Now, I’m not here to beat up on a small fan blog for posting a supportive piece about a player. The tone is pretty common on the series of tubes. “The media/people who don’t follow the team I like don’t understand how good the players are on the team I like and instead like other players as if they watched all the games and not just those of the team I like and therefore do not have enough information and they, not I, are woefully uninformed.”

But what I thought was interesting is the discussion of numbers versus versatility.

The way the above argument is framed, Love and Griffin have flashier numbers and that is why they receive the attention. In reality, Aldridge is considered less because of the issues with his numbers, not the superiority of Griffin’s and Love’s. Aldridge’s rebounding is in fact an issue. A lot of that is because of his role in the Blazers’ offense. You can’t throw out the usual pace argument, though, because his True Rebounding Percentage (percentage of all available rebounds snagged) still fell woefully behind Griffin and Love’s. That’s an issue.

But the core there is the versatility argument. Aldridge has more post moves than Love or Griffin, has the face-up jumper and some moves off the dribble (though Love’s versatility is pretty strong considering his range). Do we underrate versatility? You might be able to make that argument when we look at the candidacy of Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, even Steve Nash. But LeBron James kind of renders that point irrelevant. His strength lies not just in his brilliance, but in his versatility. That first point though, is where Aldridge gets tripped up.

He doesn’t shoot at an elite level. He doesn’t rebound at an elite level. It’s not enough to be able to do more than one thing if you don’t do any one single thing at a level which can be considered the best on any given night. He’s elite in the post so you can consider that, but it’s hard to really focus on that given how pitiful the Blazers’ offense was and how much they needed that, though that shouldn’t necessarily eliminate him. But the field goal percentage still hurts him there.

Now that I’ve made it seem like LaMarcus Aldridge is lacking in so many regards, let’s clear this up.

Aldridge is a fantastic player. He is the sun and the moon for the Blazers, and he’s remained so since his rookie season, despite the franchise constantly billing Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, then Nicolas Batum over him. He’s been an All-Star worthy player the past three years and yet still took so long to nab his spot. He doesn’t complain in the press, he doesn’t show up his opponent, he has an actual drop-step hook and he goes out and guns it every night when the Blazers aren’t tanking. He’s worthy of being on the list of consideration. He just can’t be considered a serious contender, because of the level of play in this league. It says nothing bad about Aldridge that he’s not on the serious list. It just says a lot about those who are.

And in the end, considering how he approaches the game, and his life, and the level of headaches he provides those around him, I’d rather have him than a lot of other candidates anyway.

Raptors hold on in overtime, even series with Heat

TORONTO, ON - MAY 03:  Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors hits a half-court buzzer beater to tie Game One and send it into overtime during the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 3, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t pretty, but the Toronto Raptors came away with a win and salvaged a tied series in their first two home games. For the second consecutive game, they went to overtime with the Miami Heat, only this time, it was the Heat that came up cold at the end, and Toronto prevailed, 96-92.

From an efficiency standpoint, Kyle Lowry wasn’t much better than he’s been thus far in the postseason, shooting just 7-for-22 from the field, but he hit two key jumpers in the final minutes of regulation that extended Toronto’s lead, forcing Miami to play from behind and tying the game on threes from Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic.

But it was Jonas Valanciunas who proved most effective late for Toronto. He finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, and for long stretches, the only reliable offense for the Raptors was dumping the ball in to him. Valanciunas bailed the Raptors out late with a rebound and tip-in to break an 80-80 tie after DeMar DeRozan (who shot a forgettable 9-for-24 on the night) missed two consecutive free throws.

The Heat failed to score in the first three minutes of overtime, and their continued penchant for turning the ball over did them in several times down the stretch as they failed to execute.

A bright spot for Miami was Dragic, who scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting despite receiving eight stitches to his lower lip after catching an elbow in the first half.

Splitting the first two home games isn’t ideal for the Raptors, but they had every opportunity to go down 2-0 after controlling most of the first three quarters and managed to prevail. Plus, Lowry’s late-fourth-quarter heroics could be enough to get him going again.

Damian Lillard gets tested by Warriors, looks for rebound

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 03:  Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers stands on the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) First it was a chest cold, then it was a fourth-quarter dry spell. The start of Damian Lillard‘s playoff series against the Golden State Warriors has been rough.

And as Lillard goes, often the rest of the Trail Blazers follow.

Portland is down 2-0 in its Western Conference semifinal series against the defending NBA champions. And it certainly won’t get much easier when the series shifts north Saturday – even though presumptive league MVP Stephen Curry is unlikely to return from a knee injury.

But Lillard and his team have a history of stepping up after getting knocked down. In fact, that’s been the theme of their whole season.

“I know the kind of guys I’m running with. Besides that, we’ve answered the call all season long. We’ve been in bad positions time and time again, and we’ve never shied away. We’ve never not answered the call. I don’t see why this time it would be any different,” he said.

Lillard, who averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 assists during the regular season, scored 25 points in the Blazers’ 110-99 loss in Game 2 on Tuesday night, including 17 points in the third quarter. But the Warriors held him scoreless (0-for-3 from the field) in the crucial final period when they came from behind to win, outscoring Portland 34-12. Portland only scored six points over the last 5:21.

With a day off on Wednesday, Lillard let the loss digest.

“After the game I was pretty frustrated by not being able to finish that game. Yesterday I didn’t even want to see a basketball,” he said. “I wasn’t even gonna watch the playoff game until I heard Cleveland was hitting a bunch of 3s. So I wanted to see for myself, but I didn’t even want to have nothing to do with basketball after that game.”

In the series opener, Lillard started cold but eventually scored 30 points in a 118-106 loss. The Oakland native admitted later to battling a cold afterward. On Thursday, he said he was healthy.

Lillard made a playoff splash in 2014 when his buzzer-beating 3-pointer against the Rockets sent the Blazers into the second round for the first time in 14 years.

But he was the lone starter left with the Blazers this season after the departures of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews. Some expected the Blazers to only win about two dozen games.

Lillard tends to rise when he’s the underdog, however. Led by Lillard and backcourt teammate CJ McCollum, a first-year starter, the Blazers overcame a 2-10 stretch in November to wind up the fifth seed in the West.

A two-time All-Star, Lillard was snubbed this year. How did he respond? By dropping 51 points, including nine 3-pointers, in a 137-105 victory over – wait for it – the Golden State Warriors. Lillard shot over Curry at will in that Feb. 19 victory, one of just nine losses for the Warriors in a record-setting 73-win season.

Knowing the Blazers are capable will be key Saturday night.

“We’ll have bounce. We came back after 0-2 against the Clippers (in the opening round) and came with a lot of energy in Game 3. We know how important Game 3 is,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “Having energy, having bounce, at the Moda Center, with our crowd? That’s the least of our concerns.”

Lillard also struggled in the opening two games against the Clippers in the first round. Portland came back to win the next four to win the series, but the Clippers were hurt when their top two scorers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, were knocked out with injuries.

The Warriors also get credit for Lillard’s struggles after making defensive adjustments on both Lillard and McCollum, particularly the play of Festus Ezeli.

“They are so explosive and they run really good stuff, I mean, it’s hard to guard. You have to cover a lot of floor against Portland, and I thought between Festus and Draymond (Green), those guys did a great job of protecting the feed and moving and handling the pick-and-roll on top,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

Lillard said the Blazers would learn from it.

“It hurts to go back in the locker room after you play so well for so long and you come back in there with the L. But it is a part of growth,” he said. “The entire season has been growth for us.”

Erik Spoelstra calls Frank Vogel’s firing “disturbing”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 28:  Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat reacts as he coaches in the first half against the Indiana Pacers during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 28, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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One thing that’s a constant in the NBA: coaches always stick up for each other. That’s what happened on Thursday, when Pacers president Larry Bird announced that he was letting Frank Vogel go. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who coached against Vogel in three memorable playoff series during the big three era, was unhappy to hear the news of Vogel’s fate and lamented the state of coaching, which has very little job security.

Via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

“I think it’s really disturbing, actually. I’ve only been a head coach for eight years. So what am I, the second-longest-tenured?” Spoelstra asked, with Casey in his sixth season as Toronto coach and only Gregg Popovich, in his 20th season with the San Antonio Spurs, on the bench longer. “That’s a sad state of where the coaching profession is right now and stability of organizations.”

Spoelstra and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle are the second longest-tenured coaches in the league, behind only Gregg Popovich. Already this offseason, there have been five coaching changes in addition to Vogel’s: Luke Walton replaced Byron Scott with the Lakers, Tom Thibodeau replaced Sam Mitchell with the Timberwolves, Scott Brooks replaced Randy Wittman in Washington, and the Rockets and Kings jobs are still unfilled. The Knicks job could potentially turn over as well, if Phil Jackson opts not to bring back Kurt Rambis.

This is on top of five coaches who were fired during the season: Kevin McHale in Houston, Derek Fisher in New York, Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix, Lionel Hollins in Brooklyn and David Blatt in Cleveland. That’s a third of the league since the 2015-16 season began. Spoelstra is right about the instability, but that’s part of the business.

Photos: Bucks unveil interior of new arena

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 25:  Jabari Parker #12 of the Milwaukee Bucks runs down court during the third quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on February 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Milwaukee Bucks are set to open their new arena in time for the start of the 2018-19 season, and now they’ve unveiled the first renderings of the inside of the building. They’re pretty nice.

Here’s the court:

There will also be several public bars out in the concourse:

It’s decidedly more modern than the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center, although that building is one of the most fun atmospheres in the league to watch a game in. Hopefully the new place can recapture that vibe.