LaMarcus Aldridge went out to lunch with his college coach, but saved the real treat for later.
Aldridge had 35 points and a career-high 18 rebounds as the Portland Trail Blazers added to their string of blowouts, routing the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-72 on Friday night.
Playing in front of Texas coach Rick Barnes, Aldridge missed matching the highest scoring total of his career by one point and had a key role in three scoring runs that helped the Blazers pull away for their fourth straight victory by at least 20 points.
“It just shows that we are growing up,” Aldridge said. “I think that this team is coming together. Guys are growing up, guys are getting better and I think this is the perfect time to do it.”
Aldridge cleared 30 points for only the fifth time in his three-year career, which started after he spent a single season with Barnes’ Longhorns, and had his highest scoring output other than a game 36-point outing at Utah on New Year’s Eve last season.
Barnes said Aldridge told him before the season that his No. 1 goal was to get Portland back in the playoffs for the first time since 2003. The Blazers were in position to clinch a playoff spot if Phoenix lost to Sacramento later Friday night.
“That’d be great, but we still have work to do,” Aldridge said. “We don’t want to let down. We want to try to get better.”
Brandon Roy added 15 points, and Steve Blake had 14 points and 10 assists for Portland.
Kevin Durant, another one of Barnes’ former pupils, led the Thunder with 13 points. Jeff Green scored 12 points, and Shaun Livingston made his Oklahoma City debut with 10 points off the bench.
Barnes also spent a few minutes with Durant before the game, giving him a handshake and a hug courtside.
“I wish we would have played better for him, but it was good to see him again,” said Durant, who also spent one season at Texas before being the NBA’s Rookie of the Year last season. “It’s been a long time.”
While Durant—the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer with a 25.8-point average— matched his fourth-lowest scoring total of the season, Barnes got to witness perhaps the best game of Aldridge’s career.
“He actually told me today this is a really important game for them as a team,” Barnes said. “He said, `We need to win this game.’
“The one thing that he has really tried to concentrate on is rebounding. That’s been his real big thing, and he did a great job tonight.”
Aldridge had two dunks and two layups during an early 13-2 run as the Trail Blazers opened a nine-point advantage, and Blake hit a 3-pointer a few minutes later to push the lead to 20-10.
Portland led by as many as 11 before the Thunder started chipping away. But as soon as Green banked in a 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer to get Oklahoma City within 34-33, the Blazers broke off another 13-2 spurt—again featuring eight points from Aldridge—to go up 47-35 at halftime.
The Blazers then scored the first six points of the second half, and there was little doubt after Aldridge finished a 16-1 Portland run with a turnaround jumper in the lane and a tip-in of Blake’s miss to put the Blazers up 69-41 late in the third quarter. Oklahoma City never got within 20 after that.
“We’re playing good basketball. I think we have a little bit of a rhythm,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “But it’s still for us finishing strong. We’ve been able to win four games, but we want to finish the season off strong.”
Aldridge said the game could give him some bragging rights over the summer, when he and Durant work out together with other former Longhorns on the Texas campus. Portland now leads the season series 2-1 with one game left.
“What I love about them is forget all the money and all that and the glamour that goes with the NBA,” Barnes said. “These guys love what they do. They want to be good at what they do and they take pride in wanting to be good.”
Livingston, who has spent the last two years recovering from a gruesome knee injury, went 5-for-6 and scored all 10 of his points in the second half in a positive return to the NBA.
He spent the first two months of the season with Miami but played in only four games before getting traded away to Memphis, which waived him the same day. He continued his comeback by signing with Oklahoma City’s NBA Development League affiliate in Tulsa last month and his effort was rewarded with a multiyear contract with the Thunder.
“He’s a young kid that loves the game,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We’re going to work with him and he’s going to grow with us.”