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Thursday, December 26, 2013
Why Trail Blazers are title contenders

By Rachel Stern

Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty ImagesLaMarcus Aldridge and the Trail Blazers are tied for the best record in the NBA.
The 20-10 Los Angeles Clippers visit the 23-5 Portland Trail Blazers tonight at 10:30 ET in a meeting of Western Conference division leaders.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this will be the first meeting between the teams in which each entered with at least 10 more wins than losses.

Thanks to a deep, balanced and efficient offense, as well as emerging star LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers are legitimate title contenders.

Improved Efficiency

Last season, Portland ranked 15th in the NBA in offensive efficiency and 27th in defensive efficiency. So far this season, the Blazers have improved both numbers dramatically while also playing at a quicker pace.

If they continue their offensive consistency, the Blazers could become the first team since the three-point line was introduced in 1979 to shoot at least 45 percent from the field, 40 percent on three-pointers and 80 percent from the free throw line.

Balanced Attack

Portland’s starting lineup of Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews outscore their opponents by 13.7 points per 100 possessions. That’s third best in the league among lineups that have played at least 150 minutes together.

Portland's starters average 84.4 points per game, the most in the NBA. The Blazers are one of five teams to have two players average 20 points this season and one of seven to have four with at least 14 points per game.

Aldridge’s Emergence

Aldridge is enjoying the best season of his career, averaging highs in points (23.1) and rebounds (11.0) per game as well as usage percentage (28.5 – the percentage of team plays used by a player while he is on the floor).

Aldridge gives the Blazers a force down low. He is averaging 8.3 post-up points per game, fourth among players with at least 50 post-up plays this season (Zach Randolph is first with 9.2).

What has made Aldridge such a tough cover for big men is his midrange game. According to player-tracking data on, he has taken 353 midrange shots this season. That easily leads the league from that range, forcing defenders to venture outside the paint to contest his jumper.

He is shooting 43.9 percent from the floor from midrange, eighth among players who have taken at least 150 shots from that range this season.

Aldridge often creates those midrange looks by being the pick-and-pop man. He is averaging 4.9 points per game as the pick-and-roll screener, first in the league among players with at least 50 such plays this season.

Not to be overlooked is his impact on defense as well. The Blazers are scoring nearly 10 more points per 100 possessions with Aldridge on the court while giving up around nine more points per 100 possessions with him off the court this season.