LA and T. Jones -- Aldridge-Jones a study in contrasts
HOUSTON A look at the composite box from the four regular-season meetings between Portland and Houston suggests there is no comparison between the teams' starting power forwards.
In the four games, All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 26.6 points and 15.5 rebounds for the Trail Blazers. In his three games against Portland, first-year starter Terrence Jones clocked in at 4.0 points and 2.0 rebounds for the Rockets.
Over the next two weeks, as the teams battle in a Western Conference first-round playoff series that opens Sunday night at the Toyota Center, we'll learn whether the gulf between the players is as Grand Canyonesque as it would seem.
Aldridge 28, will be playing his 19th career playoff game. This will be the postseason debut for the 22-year-old Jones, who four years ago was eyeing graduation ceremonies as a senior at Portland's Jefferson High.
"It's Terrence's first go in the playoffs, so I'm sure he'll be a little anxious," Houston coach Kevin McHale said after Saturday's practice session. "But that's OK. You have to get your feet wet sometime."
When Jones was in high school, Aldridge was already entrenched as a starting power forward for the Blazers. Now Aldridge's credentials have blown up even more, and Jones isn't boasting he intends to shut him down.
"With all the great power forwards in this league, he's one of them," Jones said. "He's an All-Star. He's a scorer. It's going to be hard to guard him. I'll just do the best I can."
Jones began the season as a reserve and played one minute in the first meeting between the teams, a 116-101 Houston victory at the Moda Center on Nov. 5.
Jones started in the next matchup, collecting 10 points and two rebounds in 29 minutes of the Blazers' 111-104 win at Moda on Dec. 12.
The Jefferson High graduate had a thigh bruise and didn't play in Houston's 126-113 home romp on Jan. 20.
Jones played only 20 minutes in the Rockets' 118-113 win at the Toyota Center in March 9, scoring two points with four rebounds.
Jones has had an excellent season, though, averaging 12.1 points and 6.9 rebounds while ranking 10th in the NBA with a .542 field-goal percentage. The 6-9, 250-pound former Kentucky standout had 18 double-doubles, scored 20 or more points 11 times and topped the 30-point barrier three times, including a 36-point outburst against Milwaukee on Jan. 18.
Jones' player efficiency rating (19.1) ranks third on the Rockets behind only James Harden (23.5) and Howard (21.4).
Aldridge, meanwhile, enjoyed the most complete season of any power forward not named Kevin Love. The Blazers' 6-11, 250-pound captain ranked eighth in the league in scoring (23.2), seventh in rebounds (11.1) and 10th in double-doubles (40).
"He's a good player," McHale said. "He hits tough shots -- (especially) that little fadeaway over his right shoulder. He's a tough shot-maker. Tough shot-makers at times can get you down. We just have to make him take a lot of shots to get his points."
In their first meeting, Houston held a 47-30 rebound advantage over Portland. In the ensuing three contests, the Blazers won the rebound battle 52-48, 52-37 and 56-48, with Aldridge picking off 25, 20 and 12.
"He has hammered us with his rebounding," McHale said. "That's a big area for us."
Jones is a strong shooter from the perimeter, though not as consistent as Aldridge. Jones' to-the-basket game might already be superior to that of Aldridge, though.
At midseason, Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, who serves as TV analyst for Rockets games, told the Portland Tribune that Jones "can be the best power forward in the game in two years. That's how good I think he is."
For now, though, Jones just has to make Aldridge work at the defensive end.
"Terrence does things that will give LaMarcus a hard time; LaMarcus does stuff that gives Terrence a hard time," McHale said. "Terrence puts the ball on the floor. He can attack. He's a good passer. He's a good driver from the perimeter. He runs the court hard."
Jones has grown tremendously as a player through the season.
"I'm a little more prepared," he said. "I'm more experienced. It's the playoffs. I'm going to try to give it 100 percent. I'm going to try to play physical, to take away middle and make it tough on (Aldridge). He's a great player who can score in a lot of ways. I just want to make it as hard as possible."
Jones said he remembers watching the 2000 Western Conference finals, when the Los Angeles Lakers made a huge comeback to overhaul Portland in the seventh and deciding game.
"I've seen a lot of Blazer playoff series growing up," he says. "It's exciting to be in one now.
"Any series would have been special, but this one's even more so because my family gets to watch me play. They're really excited."
How many tickets will he need in Portland?
"Man, I don't even want to hope to know," he said. "At least 50. I'm going to have my mom take care of that."