Stretching the Field: Portland blazing trail back to Rip City

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Updated: 4/24 12:03 pm

(SportsNetwork.com) - It's not much of an upset if a fifth seed moves on to the semifinals of the NBA playoffs because it's generally an even matchup.

The Portland Trail Blazers could care less either way and are on the verge of sending the Houston Rockets to an early summer vacation.

Portland is defying the odds on the road and home teams in the conference quarterfinals of the NBA playoffs are 7-9 heading into Thursday's action. Chicago and Houston are staring down 0-2 holes, while Miami is the only 2-0 squad.

LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trail Blazers have made Space City a home away from home with an overtime win in Game 1 last weekend and a less gut-wrenching victory Wednesday night at the Toyota Center.

Aldridge dusted off the record books in Sunday's 122-120 overtime win by scoring 46 points and grabbing 18 rebounds to become the first player with that many points and rebounds in a road playoff game since Elgin Baylor in the 1962 NBA Finals. The 46 points and 17 field goals (17-of-31) by Aldridge are a playoff franchise record.

Aldridge wasn't done there.

Just when you thought Aldridge would float back down to earth, he tore up Houston's paint again in Wednesday's 112-105 triumph to the tune of 43 points on 18-of-28 field-goal shooting to go along with eight rebounds and three blocks.

Where's Dwight Howard on defense? Or Chandler Parsons? Or Terrence Jones? Is Omer Asik ready to start again and ignite Houston's interior defense? Can the Rockets bring back Hakeem Olajuwon or Ralph Sampson?

Even if the Rockets had Olajuwon or Sampson, I don't think they could stop Aldridge right now. But that's a debate for another day.

Aldridge credited his teammates for finding him again after Game 2. Michael Jordan once said the rim looked like a huge bucket when he was in the zone, but he took more outside shots than Aldridge.

"I came into the game just trying to feel it out and see what they were going to try and do because everybody had made so much chaos over how they were going to guard me and things like that," Aldridge said. "I just went into the game just trying to feel it out and ended up finding my rhythm. I thought coach (Terry Stotts) did a really great job of moving me around."

Aldridge is averaging 44.5 points per game in the playoffs. He is the first NBA player with back-to-back 40-point games in the playoffs since LeBron James (May 24-26, 2009).

Before clinching their first postseason berth since 2011, the Blazers have shot historically well in the playoffs as evidenced by their 45.9 field goal percentage. They made 43.3 percent in the series opener with Houston, then made 47.6 percent from the field to go up 2-0. Aldridge has obviously swayed those results as well as point guard Damian Lillard.

Lillard and Aldridge combined for 77 of the 122 points in Game 1. Lillard scored 31 points to follow the 46-point explosion from his teammate and recently added a double-double of 18 points and 11 assists for Portland, which entered the playoffs with 101.5 ppg in postseason play since 1970-71. They've bulked up those numbers after two games.

The Blazers have twice won a series in the first round despite not having homecourt advantage (1983 and 1985). They were 2-13 in Game 1 when starting a playoff series outside the Rose City prior to facing Houston.

Stotts was pleased with another road win.

"To get a second win here (Houston) is quite an accomplishment. I liked our demeanor, we withstood some of their blows and kept fighting," Stotts said. "I told the team it's something to be proud of, but we have a tough game on Friday, so it's just on to the next one."

Portland, which has won two road games to begin a playoff series for the second time in team history (1977 conference finals), returns to the Moda Center for Game 3 on Friday and went 31-10 as the home team in the regular season. Aldridge averaged 23 ppg at home and Lillard posted 19.3 points in all 41 home bouts.

Stotts said this is the best he's seen Aldridge play and that's after a fantastic regular season. He complimented Aldridge on his determination, locker room presence and focus. But the Blazers won't move far in the postseason if they don't get contributions from the rest of the team, including the bench -- Dorell Wright and Williams especially.

"I thought Dorell Wright coming off the bench really made a difference," Stotts after Game 2 in which Wright posted 15 points in 18 minutes. "He made a lot of big plays, particularly making some shots, but he had some blocks (3), he had some rebounds (four). We need our bench to play well and it doesn't always mean scoring. It's good to get some points off the bench, but we'll take them wherever we can."

Stotts shouldn't have to worry about a shortage of points from Aldridge with his team on the verge of a commanding 3-0 series lead. The Blazers just have to stick to the plan and not let Howard or James Harden get into a rhythm. It's up to the Rockets if they want to change their defense because whatever they're doing isn't working and it could cost coach Kevin McHale his job.

Harden hasn't found his scoring touch and it's been key to Portland's 2-0 start. That and a couple of 40-point performances from Aldridge have the Blazers on the brink of moving into the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000.

"I don't think we thought about going 2-0," Lillard said. "We were just focused on Game 1 and we didn't want to get ahead of ourselves. Everybody in our locker room knew we were capable of winning games on the road."

Now it's time for Portland to continue to win at home.

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