LaMarcus Aldridge says given chance he would have handled Damian Lillard relationship differently

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LaMarcus Aldridge is an enigma wrapped in a mystery cloaked in a shooting sleeve. The 12-year veteran appears at the same time aloof and mercurial, something highlighted not only during his career with the Portland Trail Blazers but as stories surfaced of his unhappiness with the best organization in the NBA in the San Antonio Spurs.

Aldridge infamously asked the Spurs to trade him, but things have settled down now. Gregg Popovich admitted he may have tried to over-coach Aldridge, and now the 32-year-old Texas native is having one of his best seasons. Without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs still remain in fifth place in the Western Conference playoff race.

Still, Aldridge’s character remains a bit of a mystery even as we’ve seen cracks in the veneer leak through in recent years. During his exit from Portland, it was rumored that Aldridge’s relationship with star Damian Lillard wasn’t the kind of partnership most would expect from two franchise pillars. Now, Aldridge has taken responsibility for his side of things and admitted that if he had another chance, he might have done things differently with the All-Star point guard.

In an excellent feature from Vice and Michael Pina, Aldridge gave in part some of his thoughts on his time in Rip City with Lillard.

Via Vice:

“It’s always tough for me to find that balance where I want to tell [Damian] not to do this or this is better,” Aldridge says. “But I don’t want him to feel like I’m trying to hold him back from being who he wants to be. I do regret not talking to him at times, but also I feel like he was trying to find himself.

“I would say him and I have learned more about each other since I left that would’ve helped us when I was there, so I’ve learned from that and I’m trying to be better and not worry if I come off a certain way, because I feel like when people know who I am as a person, they know I have no ill will. I’m more reserved, so I didn’t want to come off as trying to stifle his shine. I just got back in the corner and let him do his thing…I feel like if him and I communicated as much then as we do now, then things would’ve been totally different.”

Aldridge continues to be one of the most subtly interesting figures in league history. Everything from his draft history (traded for Tyrus Thomas), to his pairing with Brandon Roy, to his relationship with Lillard has so many complexities it’s hard to keep track of them from afar.

In Portland, Aldridge certainly seemed to want to be more respected than he was. He alluded to it in the Vice piece saying, “I don’t want this to come off like I’m whining, but if someone else had done the things that I’ve done, it would be talked about more.”

The problem with Aldridge was that despite fluctuating between being the best and second-best player on his Blazers teams, he was never a vocal leader. Coaches tried to encourage him to step up, especially as he flourished post-Roy. But Aldridge was disadvantaged by the fact that he wanted superstar recognition despite lacking superstardom. Both Roy and Lillard were more vocal — or at least charismatic — leaders who also craved national recognition for their play. Both guards at times overshadowed Aldridge with their game.

Aldridge’s Blazers years were always this odd whirlwind of wanting respect but also wanting distance, which is something we rarely (if ever) see from the best stars on playoff-contending NBA teams in the modern era. That he wanted to be the No. 1 guy but shied away from the interpersonal responsibility that comes with that wasn’t helped by Roy and Lillard being so good in a guard-dominant league.

This isn’t to say anything against Aldridge as a person. He’s his own personality and part of what makes him so interesting is the fact that he’s dominant offensively despite being one of the quietest veterans we’ve seen. We made jokes about his external image to our heart’s content, but even former Spurs teammate Tim Duncan was vocal behind the scenes in a way Aldridge has never been.

Aldridge does seem to have sorted himself out now, even if only very recently and with the guidance of perhaps the best coach to ever grace the league. Everyone is hoping Leonard is back for the playoffs, but if he isn’t it will be another chapter in Aldridge’s long narrative as he tries to lead the Spurs past the first round.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Gerald Green ejected for pushing Gorgui Dieng into stands (VIDEO)

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I don’t know why everyone in the NBA is so geeked this weekend. Coaches are getting fined, referees are throwing dudes out left and right. Maybe it’s because most of us recently saw the sun for the first time in five months, although I couldn’t tell you for certain.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets went head-to-head on Sunday, something had players on both sides itching. Early in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng got into it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Gerald Green.

The incident came as Dieng was being defended by Paul in the low post. Paul was whistled for a foul while trying to get the ball away from Dieng, but even after the whistle blew the Rockets guard did not stop trying to get the ball. Dieng responded by pushing Paul, who fell to the ground as if someone cut the strings on him.

That prompted another whistle from the refs, and a crowd of players ensued. Green rushed to push Dieng, sending the Timberwolves center into the stands.

When the scene settled, Dieng was issued a technical foul and Green was ejected.

After the game, Dieng told reporters he thought Paul’s constant digging for the ball was a cheap shot, so he responded in kind.

Minnesota, energized, tried to make a late push on the top team in the Western Conference but came up just short. Houston beat the Timberwolves, 129-120.

Alvin Gentry, Stan Van Gundy fined $15,000 each for criticizing officials

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All is not right between NBA players, coaches, and the referees. What else is new?

After contentious games on Saturday night, both Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry expressed their opinions about what they felt was a poor officiating.

Van Gundy — whose team lost to the Portland Trail Blazers as they continued on to their 12th straight win — complained that his players were being “screwed” as they were knocked down, hammered, and hit. Gentry was especially infuriated after a late foul call went against his team as James Harden was hit on the hand while shooting a 3-pointer.

Now, the NBA has announced that both coaches have been fined $15,000 each for public criticism of officials.

Things were slated to get better between the NBRA and NBPA after the All-Star break. The two sides were supposed to have a meeting which discussed some of the more concerning trends that players and coaches have publicly complained about this year. That meeting got moved up to December, with more talks to come later. It’s not clear if they’ve done any good.

Right after All-Star Weekend guys like LeBron James were still making waves about how they are being officiated. Coaches like Doc Rivers continue to openly complain about the referees and draw fines. Van Gundy and Gentry are just the latest additions to the list, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last before the season ends.

Hell, the end of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors was just about as bad as we’ve seen all year. In that game, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected after a comment made by a fan sitting near the floor was incorrectly attributed to him.

The NBA lost a lot of veteran officials due to retirement in the changeover to this season, and the transition has been rough. They’re going to need to figure some things out over the summer. I expect bigger announcements about those efforts to come out after the NBA Finals as a means to restore public faith in the officiating crews.