All teams know that the compact, 66-game season is going to be a lot of wear on their players. The bench is going to play a huge part this year, and a team’s depth may make the difference between playoff success and an early end. In their two wins to start the season, the Portland Trail Blazers have already shown how important their bench will be this year.
Their team leader, LaMarcus Aldridge had to play almost 42 minutes in their opening win against the Philadelphia 76ers. He said afterwards that his legs were absolutely dead. It’s clear that Aldridge isn’t going to be able to do that every night, especially on back-to-backs. The Blazers are already weakened down low with Greg Oden out for now, and they’re trying to get as many minutes as they can out of two of the oldest players in the NBA, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby. Obviously, they’ll need someone to step up.
During Tuesday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings, head coach Nate McMillan seemed reluctant to take Aldridge out, even though he was clearly not at 100%. In the first half, Aldridge was sluggish getting back on transition defense, late helping out on rotations and just didn’t seem to have a real hop in his step. But when McMillan subbed in Chris Johnson, the Kings seemed to have control of the game, and the Blazers were behind, so Aldridge had to go back in.
In the second half, the Blazers were able to open up a lead, giving McMillan the opportunity to give Aldridge another rest. This time he went with Craig Smith. In Smith’s first couple of possessions, DeMarcus Cousins started heating up and it looked like Aldridge would have to come back in again. Then all of a sudden, Smith got it together. He put in a couple of buckets and started grabbing a few rebounds, really throwing his body around. The Blazers were able to get a lead well into double digits and Aldridge got a much more substantial rest. When Aldridge did finally come back in, he was grabbing rebounds and scoring at will, he looked rejuvenated. He finished with 24 points in 33 minutes. He played a few minutes longer than he needed, still in the game when the Blazers were up 20, but that’s what the Blazers need to shoot for to keep him strong.
This game really was a story of two halves and in the second half the Blazers took over. They showed how important their bench is going to be throughout the season, and what they’re capable of if they’re hitting on all cylinders.
Another thing that stood out from this game was the play of Gerald Wallace. Aldridge may be the leader of this team, but Wallace is going to give him a run for team MVP. He showed the most hustle, an ability to score whenever he wanted and really kept his team in it when they struggled in the first half. Wallace definitely showed up as the emotional leader of the team and got a standing ovation and a “Gerald Wallace” chant when he left the game, clearly a fan favorite. He’s a fun guy to watch and he’s going to be another huge part of the Blazer’s success.