Rip City Classic feeds NBA-starved fans

By The Beacon | November 8, 2011 9:00pm

(Ian Hilger | THE BEACON)

By Jason Hortsch Staff Writer

At least for one night, fans and players alike could forget the lockout as the NBA returned to Rip City.

NBA stars Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and James Harden were just some of the familiar faces taking the court in front of a raucous crowd Sunday night. The Rip City Classic, organized by Aldridge, filled UP's Chiles Center to capacity and gave fans a glimpse of what they are missing during the lockout.

Aldridge opened the game with a three pointer, his trademark high release a welcome site for weary Blazers fans. Chris Johnson, another Blazers forward, quickly stepped up the intensity, putting his springs to use on a vicious put-back dunk a couple of minutes later.

Other highlights included Durant and new Blazers guard Raymond Felton having a shooter's duel, trading 3-pointers on back-to-back-to-back-to-back possessions in the third quarter, as well as former University of Washington alumni Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson having their own personal Huskies battle to close out the quarter.

Despite Durant's 47 points, Aldridge's Home team narrowly edged out Durant's Away team 164-157.

Aldridge paced his squad with 42 points, with Wesley Matthews, another Blazers fan favorite, chipping in 30. Defense was a non-factor, as both teams shot over 50 percent from the field.

Matthews was pleased with the results of the game, especially being able to play in front of a crowd.

"It feels great," Matthews said. "It was a lot of fun out there. I'd almost forgotten that I was tired."

Harden, the liveliest player during warm-ups, has enjoyed the recent trend of exhibition games during the lockout.

"I've been playing in a couple all summer," Harden said. "They're just great. You get a chance to play in an actual game against some good competition. It's a good overall thing."

Aldridge said he wanted to give fans the chance to see some NBA basketball.

"We just want to have fun and play some good basketball," Aldridge said. "It should be fun. I was getting hyped about it today. I miss basketball a lot right now."

Durant pointed to his close friendship with Aldridge as his reason for deciding to play in the charity event, as well as his respect for Portland as a basketball city.

"LaMarcus is kind of like my big brother," Durant said. "He came and supported me in my game, so I had to come and support his. I love Portland, though. Portland shows the game of basketball so much love, so it's good to come here and play."

Conspicuously absent from the arena was Blazers favorite Brandon Roy, who appeared to be a last minute scratch. Aldridge chalked up his absence to family matters, but questions about the health of his ailing knees remain.

The event allowed Aldridge to donate $100,000 to local charities, including New Avenues for Youth, Breast Cancer Awareness, and Providence/St. Vincent's Cardio Vascular Institute

Despite all of the goodwill and happiness surrounding the event, the NBA's lockout once again stole much of the spotlight as most pre-game interviews with players were dominated by discussion about the labor dispute. Players weighed in on a variety of issues, with Durant being the most vocal.

"I'm sick of it man. I'm sick of it," Durant said. "Us players have done what we have to do, and now it's on the owners. But it's looking like they won't give in. It's not fair. We'll stand firm. I support them (the player's association) 110 percent."

Aldridge said he just misses basketball, plain and simple.

"I definitely want to play basketball," said Aldridge. "All the guys want to play basketball."

Matthews noted that financial consequences are far from the only issue players are facing during the lockout.

"Financially, we were prepared when I came into the league," Matthews said. "They said lockout, lockout, lockout. I've set up my plan for it. But mentally? No. Hell no."

Former Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford was more reserved in his assessment.

"I'd have to think more about it, honestly," Crawford said, when asked how he would vote on a deal that split revenue 50/50 between owners and players. "I think it's a tough decision either way."

He was more candid when addressing the swirling rumors that he may be bound for the Trailblazers as soon as the lockout is lifted.

"Yeah, definitely," Crawford said when asked if he would like to play for Portland. "Brandon's one of my best friends. It's almost like a hometown team because I'm right from Seattle."

Lockout or no lockout, the Rip City Classic gave fans and players the chance to just relax and enjoy basketball for what it is.

Some found the atmosphere perhaps too relaxed, though. Spectator Alex Grimaldi, a UP senior, was a little disappointed by the effort of players.

"I just wish the players had tried harder," Grimaldi said, in a reference to the porous defense.

Pilots in the post -season.

(-- The Beacon)

(-- The Beacon)