Lakers in Portland for Aldridge, not Roy

They’re not quite the Charlotte Bobcats, but the Portland Trail Blazers have nonetheless been a major thorn in L.A.’s side over the past few seasons, at least when playing at the Rose Garden.

In fact, the Lakers had lost nine consecutive games dating back to Feb. 23, 2005, before a Kobe-Bryant-less squad won in Portland on Feb. 6 of last season. Even with that win, the Lakers are just 3-15 in their last 18 trips to Oregon.

Phil Jackson’s “they wanted it more than we did” phrase comes to mind from those games at least in the past few seasons, the Blazers and their boisterous fans approaching the two Laker games each season like Game 7 of a playoff series, but L.A. treating the games like … well, just another regular season game.

That could explain why the Lakers failed to win in Portland in two of the past three seasons (1-5 overall) while going to the Finals in each campaign. Another major factor was the play of Brandon Roy, Portland’s best player over that period of time.

But this season, Roy has played in only 23 games while battling troublesome knees, averaging career lows of 16.6 points 3.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds, numbers he exceeded even as a rookie in 2006-07. Even though the Oregonian reported Wednesday morning that Roy is likely to return against the Lakers, the current reincarnation of the Blazers may belong not to Roy, but LaMarcus Aldridge.

Since Roy was shut down on Dec. 15, Aldridge has turned into a basketball monster. He’s gotten a bit better every month, going from 15.7 points in October to 18.9 in November, then 20.4 in December and 24.9 in January. Now in February, Aldridge has gone off entirely, averaging 29.1 points with 8.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.6 steals, all season highs for a month except on the glass (he grabbed 10.4 per game in January). He’s scored at least 34 points in five of nine February games, seven of which were Blazer wins, and hit the 40-point mark twice.

The University of Texas product had to pick things up due not only to Roy’s absence, but also that of center Marcus Camby, battling his own knee injury since January 15, who will be out of the line up against the Lakers. Replacing Camby is the much smaller Dante Cunningham, plus Joel Pryzbilla off the bench. Guards Andre Miller and Wesley Matthews have been solid throughout the season, while Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez see the rest of the minutes on the wings.

It’ll be interesting to see how Roy’s able to play on his knees, but regardless, the Lakers know they’ll have to deal with Aldridge.