On a night when position rivals Blake Griffin and Kevin Love were voted All-Star starters over him, Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge delivered a performance worthy of an All-Star starter in a 110-105 comeback victory over the Denver Nuggets.
Aldridge finished the night with a career-high 44 points, 13 rebounds and five assists while shooting 15-of-29 overall and 14-of-17 on free throws. Afterward, he stated his belief that he was deserving of a starting nod in the All-Star Game, according to Ben Golliver of Blazer's Edge:
"I think I definitely should have been a starter," Aldridge told Blazersedge. "But it's over with now, basically."
Aldridge scored 30 of his 44 points in the second half, including the last 15 points of the game for Portland. Much of that damage came at the free throw line, where Aldridge went 11-of-14 in the final frame. In the final 1:07, he went 8-of-8 from the charity stripe to secure the victory.
In the third quarter, Aldridge's efforts helped the Blazers turn a 15-point deficit into just a five-point deficit heading into the fourth. The 28-year-old scored 15 points in the quarter on 7-of-10 shooting, doing work both inside and out. He also grabbed six of his 13 rebounds in the third quarter.
The brilliant performance was just another in a long line of them in what has been a career-year for Aldridge. On the season, the power forward is averaging 24.7 points and 11.6 rebounds, which would both be career-highs.
While both Griffin and Love have had excellent seasons as well, it's hard to argue Aldridge wasn't more deserving of a starting spot given the fact that he has both the numbers and team success to back it up. The Blazers currently sit at 32-11, just one game out of the top spot in the Western Conference and 3½ games ahead of Griffin's Los Angeles Clippers. Love has the most gaudy stats of the three, but his Minnesota Timberwolves are just 20-21 and not in the West playoff picture at the moment.
Of course, All-Star starter voting is usually a popularity contest, and Aldridge just isn't as popular as Griffin or Love. But while Aldridge wasn't selected as a starter, the love was coming from all places on Thursday. TNT commentator Charles Barkley said Aldridge should have been a starter shortly after the lineups were announced. During the game, Aldridge was serenaded with loud "MVP" chants from the Portland faithful.
Aldridge's teammates, including Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, all showed their support for the big man after the game. So did Blazers coach Terry Stotts, who again declared Aldridge the best power forward in the NBA:
"I stand by my belief that he's the best power forward in the game," Stotts said. "I think he showed it again tonight. It's not the first time he's shown that. The starters are voted by the fans, but I think LaMarcus has the respect of the coaches and the players and the general managers in the league. He's going to be in the All-Star Game and deservedly so. I think he just proved, once again, that he's the best power forward [in the NBA]."
Aldridge is a lock to be chosen by the coaches as a reserve, and there's still an outside chance he starts in the All-Star Game. Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant has already said he doesn't plan on playing, so perhaps Aldridge gets bumped up into the starting lineup. Choosing a guard to replace Bryant would make a bit more sense, but don't count out Aldridge, especially if Stotts winds up coaching the West squad.