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LaMarcus Aldridge returns all grown up

DALLAS – The skinny kid from Seagoville has grown into a legitimate NBA star.

Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge packed on 15 pounds of muscle last summer and made the big steps from being an excellent supporting cast member to the Trail Blazers’ go-to guy this season. Aldridge is the focal point of Portland’s offense as he fulfills his dream of playing a playoff series in his hometown.

“Aldridge has been a different player this year,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “His game really took a quantum leap this year. That’s why, in my mind, it wasn’t even close: He should have been an All-Star.”

Aldridge’s numbers certainly support the argument of Carlisle, who wants to make it clear that Aldridge got his vote. Aldridge, the 6-foot-11, 246-pound power forward/center, averaged 21.8 points on 50 percent shooting and 8.8 rebounds for a team that qualified for the playoffs despite major injury issues.

Aldridge, a fifth-year veteran fulfilling the potential Portland saw in him as the No. 2 overall pick in the draft out of Texas, was especially dominant against Dallas. He averaged 27.8 points and 9.0 rebounds against the Mavs, who split the season series with the Trail Blazers.

It’s not like Portland planned to make Aldridge the focal point. They had no choice because of knee problems that sidelined Brandon Roy for more than two months and have limited the former All-Star’s minutes since his return.

But Aldridge was absolutely ready for the challenge.

Aldridge had always been a finesse-style power forward who was much more comfortable shooting jump shots than operating on the block. He trained all summer to change that.

“He’s definitely matured,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “We saw that from the start of the season. He understood that he needed to get stronger, so he worked on his body to get ready for this season, to take more hits, more pounding, more physical play in the paint. He has committed to playing in the paint.”

Added Aldridge, who is also proud of his emergence as a leader: “That was one of my goals this summer, to get better physically, being able to take the pounding of playing against a center. I think I’ve done that this year.”

That’s an understatement. Aldridge has developed into one of the league’s most dominant low-post scorers. According to HoopData.com, his 4.1 buckets per game inside three feet of the rim rank eighth in the league. It’s an increase from 2.8 the previous season.

“He’s always had a nice little in-between shot, but I really think he took it to the next level this year by just pounding it in the paint, really getting deep in the paint, getting those points in the paint for them,” Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki said. “When Roy went out with the injury, he took the team on his back and had a great season.”

Now Aldridge gets a best-of-seven series to show his hometown just how much he's grown.