The Portland Trail Blazers welcomed back their leading scorer, LaMarcus Aldridge who had been out with a back injury, and celebrated his return with a 100-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night at Philips Arena in Atlanta. Aldridge was a big part of his team's win, leading all scorers with 25 points and 16 rebounds as the Trail Blazers consigned Atlanta to its' fifth straight loss.
Atlanta is a very thin team, it has talented players but not enough of them and once again, on Thursday night, it showed. In addition to the long term injured (Al Horford, Gustavo Ayon, and John Jenkins) Atlanta's outside threat, Kyle Korver was out with back spasms again. Korver's presence on the team provides a significant deep threat that stretches the opposition defense allowing Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague the opportunity to drive to the basket.
Without Korver, Atlanta becomes much more one-dimensional. Atlanta tried to pull the defense out by putting up three pointers but shot just 4 of 22. Without a significant deep threat from Atlanta to stretch the defense the Trail Blazers were able to collapse it making it harder for Teague and Millsap to cut into the lane.
Having said that Jeff Teague did have a good night leading the Hawks with 22 points but there just wasn’t enough of a supporting cast. Lou Williams was next for the Hawks, coming off the bench with 16 points.
The Hawks, 8th in the Eastern Conference, fell to a team that currently sits in 5th in the Western Division but one that is fighting hard to stay in the playoff picture. Given their relative standings a casual observer might think this game would be close but it wasn’t and you always got the sense that, if it got close that the Trail Blazers would switch it up a gear. They didn’t have to, they weren’t really challenged all night long.
The highlight of the evening from a basketball fan’s perspective was the show that LaMarcus Aldridge put on. With 25 points and 16 rebounds Aldridge was the dominant force on the court. As his head coach Terry Stotts said, “ It’s good to have LaMarcus back, [he] looked very good. He rebounded the ball extremely well. He rebounded the ball in a crowd. I liked the way he took the ball to the paint. He competed inside. He didn’t shy away from any contact….and defensively he was locked into our gameplan.”
Damian Lillard added about his team-mate, “He’s our best player. He brings balance to our team. We had an inside presence and we were able to play inside out….I think with him out there we get more quality shots.”
For Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer it was difficult to find anything positive that came out of their fifth straight loss but he did credit the teams work ethic, “…there were stretches where we really competed. We cut some leads…Lou Williams gave us a huge boost off the bench. He gave us a lot of energy. The whole group has given a lot…Jeff Teague’s energy throughout the game allowed us to be close.”
Atlanta holds onto the last playoff position in the Eastern Conference but the margin between them and the Knicks who sit in ninth is closing; it’s now two games.
The Hawks travel to Washinton for a game on Saturday before returning home to take on the 76’ers Monday night. Portland play in Chicago Friday night.