02 December 2009
Neither Juwan Howard or Dante Cunningham were getting a ton of run, but now with LaMarcus Aldridge’s suspect right knee they might want to get used to the playing time.
While Aldridge will be re-evaluated (right knee contusion) before Saturday’s game at home against Houston, the veteran-rookie tandem at least held their own filling in at power forward in the heartbreaking loss the Miami Heat.
For Cunningham, it was his first NBA start – certainly well earned after waiting his turn from earlier this season.
“You just have to stay mentally ready at all times when you’re not playing,” Cunningham said about logging constant DNP-CD’s back then.
“The next day you have to get in there and get your extra shots up and keep your cardio ready. You have to be ready to run when they drop you in the game.”
The Villanova product was ready and able finishing with 6 points and 5 rebounds in 18 minutes. Let’s just put this out there – like we didn’t already know: the kid battles. And then he keeps battling. A tip of the hat also to assistant coach Monty Williams for his work with Cunningham from day one this season. It’s paid off.
Dante’s tag-team partner Juwan Howard (they even shared floor time late in the third quarter) faired even better. Having watched whatever minutes he once earned earlier this season decline suddenly behind Aldridge and Cunningham, Howard took a giant step back into Nate McMillan’s rotation on Tuesday night.
Coming off the bench, Howard added 14 points and 5 rebounds, going 6-8 from the field in roughly 29 minutes.
His shots were smooth and easy. So were the results. Goes to show all those years of hard work in and out of season are still paying off.
“I’ve always prided myself at competing at a high level. I’m a competitive ballplayer, and what comes with that is you have to take care of your body. I’ve truly done that throughout my career,” told me in a recent interview.
“That’s why I think I’ve had longevity in this league so far, thank God.”
Portland is surely praying LaMarcus Aldridge and his 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game receive a clean bill of health come Saturday.
But if not, Dante Cunningham and Juwan Howard are showing capable of playing second best.
Update: What is another week covering the Portland Trail Blazers without a little Andre Miller melodrama to pass the time.
We go national with two recent pieces from names you well know - NBA.com's Shaun Powell and former Columbian Blazers beat writer turned SI.com scribe Brian Hendrickson, both taking outside looks on this inside relationship between Portland and Miller.
"He's either a starting point guard they don't need or a point guard who isn't good enough to start. If that makes sense," writes Powell breaking down some NBA offseason moves.
Hendrickson digs in deeper after taking in the Blazers/Charlotte Bobcats game a couple weeks back. Even 3,000-plus miles away in North Carolina (and probably not listening to Little Brother unfortunately), Brian wonders if this partnership will pan out.
Some in Portland may question the same.