When LaMarcus Aldridge felt the familiar flutter with his heart, an issue that has sidelined him twice before in his NBA career, there was no telling how long the San Antonio Spurs star would be out and how big of an impact it would have on Aldridge’s health and the Western Conference playoff race.
Less than two weeks later, Aldridge has quickly regained the form that made him a five-time All-Star and has the Spurs positioned as a serious challenger to Golden State out West.
“Just trying to get better every night, trying to be dominant down there,” Aldridge said after scoring 26 points to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves last week, “and trying to be the player that I have to be for us to win.”
The Spurs announced that Aldridge would be out indefinitely after a heart arrhythmia surfaced again. Aldridge was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome — an abnormality that can cause a rapid heartbeat — in 2007. He missed time at the end of his rookie season to get treated and also sat out for 10 days in training camp in 2011 after the symptoms returned.
Aldridge consulted several specialists after the arrhythmia came back during a game earlier in March. But he missed only two games over less than a week before being able to return to the Spurs, who are chasing the Golden State Warriors for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
In the six games since he has returned, Aldridge is averaging 21.0 points and 7.8 rebounds in more than 33 minutes per game, giving the Spurs the inside scoring threat they need to complement MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard.
“The attention that he draws and the ability he has allows us to keep going and have enough offense so that if we maintain our defense we can be in the hunt,” coach Gregg Popovich said.
Aldridge is finding his rhythm at the perfect time for the Spurs, who host Cleveland on Monday and Golden State on Wednesday, play at Oklahoma City on Friday and come back home for games against Utah and Memphis in a particularly grueling, though home-heavy, stretch.
If Aldridge is concerned about his health, he sure isn’t showing it.
“God is good. I’m a man of faith and I believe what’s meant to be will be,” Aldridge said. “I have faith in the plan. I’m just happy to be back and playing.”
WILD, WILD EAST
When Boston beat Miami on Sunday night, a jumbled Eastern Conference got even more interesting. The Celtics (48-26) moved into a virtual tie with Cleveland (47-25) for first place. Washington, sitting in third place, is just 2 1/2 games back, and things are just as competitive at the bottom of the playoff field.
The Heat, who have been on a remarkable run since mid-January to jump into eighth place, are 2 1/2 games out of the fifth seed, but just a half-game ahead of Chicago for the final spot and only 2 1/2 games out of the 12th seed.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Here are some games to keep an eye on in the upcoming week:
Cleveland at San Antonio, Monday: LeBron James and the Cavs visit during a big week for the Spurs. Kawhi Leonard will be waiting.
Oklahoma City at Dallas, Monday: Whenever the Thunder and Mavericks get together, Dallas owner Mark Cuban seems to take a jab at Russell Westbrook. And Russ definitely knows it.
Denver at Portland, Tuesday: Two teams vying for the eighth seed in the West. Damian Lillard has been on fire for Portland since the All-Star break.
Golden State at San Antonio, Wednesday: The two top teams in the Western Conference square off in a game that will have a big effect on which team gets the No. 1 seed.
Sacramento at New Orleans, Friday: DeMarcus Cousins, fresh off a big week for the improving Pelicans, gets his first shot at his former team.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
The Phoenix Suns had two remarkable lines this week. On Thursday night, their starting lineup of Alex Len, Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ullis, Devin Booker and Derrick Jones Jr. had a mean age of 21 years, 14 days old. According to the Suns, that number was lower than 15 of the 16 teams that played in the regional semifinals in the men’s NCAA Tournament. They lost that game to the Brooklyn Nets by 28 points. The next game, Booker erupted for 70 points in a loss to the Celtics, becoming just the sixth different player in NBA history to score that many in a game.
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