The way LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing, he may end up warranting discussion for league MVP.
Putting up terrific numbers for a Portland Trail Blazers team which leads the Western Conference, Aldridge is coming off possibly his best effort of the season going into Friday night's home game against the West-worst Utah Jazz.
"He's the best power forward in the game," teammate Wesley Matthews said. "He's got to be getting MVP votes with the way we're playing, with the level he's playing at. He's just willing us right now. He's awesome right now."
Aldridge is averaging career highs of 23.5 points and 9.7 rebounds but has been particularly dominant in three games this month, averaging 31.0 points on 59.1 percent shooting. The Blazers won each of those games, defeating two of the league's top teams, following a loss at Phoenix which ended an 11-game winning streak.
Two nights after beating East-leading Indiana, Portland halted Oklahoma City's eight-game win streak with a 111-104 victory Wednesday behind Aldridge's season-high 38 points and 13 boards. He made a career-best 17 field goals in 28 attempts and even handed out a season-high five assists.
"Offensively, obviously he can score," coach Terry Stotts said. "But I liked his toughness, I liked his leadership, I liked his competitive fire. As much as he played very well, it was a lot of the intangibles that I really appreciated from him."
Portland (16-3) knows that when its star forward dominates, things can open up offensively for others. The Trail Blazers shoot 41.0 percent from 3-point range, third-best in the NBA, and are among the league leaders at 105.0 points per game.
They're also doing the little things well, ranking in the top 10 in the NBA in rebounds and assists, while placing near the bottom in fouls and turnovers.
Still, the Trail Blazers know that Aldridge is the engine that runs the team.
"I don't want to forecast any wins or anything, but when (Aldridge) plays like that, and he's been playing like that for a few weeks now, we're going to be tough to beat," said center Robin Lopez, who has three double-doubles in the last four games.
It doesn't appear the Jazz (4-16) have the offensive punch to keep up with Portland. Utah is scoring a West-low 91.2 points per game, including a league-worst 88.7 in road contests.
The Jazz had been 0-9 in road games until winning their last one, 112-104 at Phoenix on Saturday, and have played much better since rookie point guard Trey Burke had his minutes extended.
The reigning NCAA player of the year missed the team's first 12 games because of a fractured index finger. He's started the last six and has averaged 33.5 minutes in the past five, putting up 16.2 points and 5.0 assists per game as Utah has gone 3-2.
Burke has just two turnovers over the last four games while the Jazz have averaged 13.0, compared to 17.8 through their first 16 games.
"(Trey) does a good job out there controlling the offense," said Derrick Favors, who had 22 points and 13 rebounds in Wednesday's 95-86 loss to Indiana. "He takes a lot of pressure off myself and Gordon (Hayward) as being a facilitator and scorer. He's a pick-and-roll type player, so I know if I set good screens, he's going to get a shot or I'm going to get a shot."
Burke had a career-high nine assists Wednesday.
Utah has won seven of eight versus the Trail Blazers, though Aldridge didn't play in four of those contests because of injuries.
From Elias: The Trail Blazers will look to improve to 17-3 when they host the Jazz tonight. Should they win, it would be tied for the 3rd best 20-game start in NBA history by a team that missed the playoffs the previous season.
The last team to miss the playoffs and then go on to win at least 17 of their first 20 games the following season were the 2007-08 Celtics, who went 18-2 and then went on to win the NBA title.