Starting Five: The long and winding road stops in Indianapolis


Photo courtesy of AP

The Trail Blazers’ season-long, seven-game road trip will come to an end tonight in Indianapolis (the curious spot for some of the best tamales you’ll find) and whatever happens tonight, the team plane will be fueled on positivity. Yeah, I think even if the team drops to 2-5 on this road trip, those two wins were meaningful enough to build on. If you didn’t turn the channel on Monday night, you watched one of the best NBA comebacks of the last 12 years. The Charlotte Bobcats led by 18 points with less than five minutes remaining in regulation but the Blazers rallied to win 118-112 in overtime. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, “the last NBA team to come back to win after trailing by 15 or more points with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter was Phoenix on November 4, 2000, against Denver.”

Not bad.

1. Aldridge’s understated leadership

On a night when the team loses to Washington and it’s the starting shooting guard, not the All-Star captain, who’s credited publicly for speaking up behind the scenes, then its easy to point out that LaMarcus Aldridge is not the lead voice in the locker room. But when Aldridge stepped in under the boards when J.J. Hickson was benched in Charlotte and singlehandedly provided second-chance opportunities for the team, then the guy gets hip hip hooray’ed for his leadership. Funny how that works, eh?

Once Aldridge checked into the fourth quarter with 10:15 remaining, the team trailed by 10 points. That deficit ballooned to 18, but Aldridge was the anchor of the defense that sparked this run. Aldridge had a block, six rebounds, three on the offensive end, and scored while under the rim for offensive putbacks. No rah rah speech. Just rough and rugged play when the Blazers needed it most.

At the end of a long road trip, watch Aldridge because his response just may dictate how the team performs tonight.

2. Keep Hickson engaged

Two points, two fouls, no rebounds, and only 12 minutes on the floor during an overtime game. Those numbers would befit a reserve player, but yet this stat line represented Hickson’s night in Charlotte. Even backup PF/C Joel Freeland, who has patched together a nice string of games, played more (13:10) and produced better numbers (3-for-4 for 6 points and two offensive rebounds).

Hickson disappeared when he couldn’t get going offensively. Which is a shame because Hickson can make an impact on any game just with his heart for hard work and hustle under the boards. He can create his offense there – not by stopping the ball with his back to the basket. Instead, Hickson started the Charlotte game with an ill-fated jump shot and moments later tried a fadeaway. Both shots missed and Hickson wasn’t the same. He didn’t defend nor did he rebound. In Boston and Detroit, Hickson also played limited minutes but the Charlotte game was a new low. Although the Blazers’ small lineup ignited the scoring late in the game – Hickson wouldn’t have fit there anyway – Hickson has to return to the double-double man that we saw earlier in the season when he would barely get over 10 points but make the biggest impression for at least that much on the glass.

3. Ugly Eastern Conference basketball at its finest

The East side has long been known as the defensive-minded conference and although it’s not like it used to be, that conference has three of the top five teams in points allowed. The Indiana Pacers just so happen to be No. 1, only surrendering 91.1 points per game. They’re also the top rebounding team in the league (47.3). So if you truly go to the games just to chant DE-FENSE! then Indiana is your Nirvana. But if you’re desiring an up-and-down game with beautiful basketball movement, then please, do not watch this game.

The absence of scorer Danny Granger, has made these Pacers downright offensive to watch. Indiana ranks last in the league in scoring (90.3 ppg) and 28th in assists. But they haven’t gone belly up without Granger, and with good road wins over the Lakers and the Bulls, the Pacers are a respectable 9-9. They win ugly but it’s effective.

4. This guy’s going to get a shoe deal because of this…

The dunk heard ’round the NBA – which will make Aldridge think twice about taking charges – continues to make waves.

Sigh. Have we become a mindless generation of basketball puppets… our every emotion controlled by the fierce dunks featured in SportsCenter’s Top Ten highlights? Why, yes. Yes, we have.

Moving up the “Dunk Ladder” on

5. That’s What He Said

Can a dude called “Psycho T” be the savior to the Pacers’ offense? Uhh, he seems to think so.

This, from a story written by the Indianapolis Star’s Mike Wells, about how Tyler Hansbrough vows to shoot himself out of a slump.

“I’m going to keep shooting,” the Indiana Pacers power forward said. “I feel like I’m automatic from there. That’s my game. It’s going to come around.”

Prediction: Before the seven-game road trip, I predicted a 3-4 result. Of course, I thought those three wins would come against Washington, Detroit and Cleveland. It hasn’t worked out as I imagined but 3-4 is still on the table with a win tonight. After a week and a half on the road, it will be hard for the young team not to have their minds on Portland. But in spite of a longing for home and a defensive-minded Indiana team in their way, I had the Blazers finishing 3-4 and I’m not going to change it now.

Blazers 85, Pacers 80

Tipoff: 4 p.m., Comcast SportsNet • 1190 AM/102.3 FM KEX

Officials of the night: Marc Davis, Sir Allen Conner, Sean Corbin

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