If a picture is indeed a thousand words, then three pictures, courtesy of NBA.com, should suffice to explain just what Houston will be up against tonight.
The Houston Rockets are the first shot chart. The defending champion Miami Heat are the second. And the Portland Trail Blazers are the third.
In case those images did not make it clear, the Portland Trail Blazers are a ludicrously good offensive team from every area of the floor. Measured by offensive rating, they are not just the best offensive team this year; they are the best offensive team since the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns. The gap between them and 2nd-best Miami is equivalent to the gap between Miami and the 12th-best Denver Nuggets. They attempt as many 3 pointers per game as Houston does – only while Houston is the 23rd most accurate team from long range, the Trail Blazers are 2nd.
How do they do it? By just being good at every facet of the offensive game. The Blazers can post-up with Lamarcus Aldridge. They can iso with Damian Lillard. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are deadly spot up shooters, and Robin Lopez crashes the glass and ensures that their defense is just “bad” and not “embarrassing”. Shut down one part of Portland’s offense, and they go to another part. Houston’s last game against the Blazers demonstrated this – Patrick Beverley (who fortunately should make his return from a broken hand tonight) humiliated Lillard into a 1-10 performance from the field, but Aldridge went off in the second half to score 31 points and grab 25 rebounds in a Portland victory.
This is an incredibly difficult matchup for the Rockets, as they have repeatedly struggled to guard the perimeter and will get off screens, things which Portland will take advantage of. The Blazers certainly have their weaknesses – they are a horrid defensive team by the standards of a contender, and while their bench has improved substantially from last season, it’s not significantly better than Houston’s even considering Garcia and Smith’s injuries and Asik’s…problem. But against a team playing this well, Houston cannot afford mistakes and lapses like they have demonstrated far too many times over the past few weeks.
LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Houston’s big men.
In his two earlier games against the Rockets, Aldridge faced two very different scenarios from Houston’s bigs. In the first game early in the season, Aldridge dealt with the Twin Towers experiment of Howard and Asik with bits of Omri Casspi, and finished with a pedestrian 21 points on 19 shots. Later, Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard faced off against Aldridge, who as mentioned above outshot and overpowered Houston.
Aldridge is somehow playing even better this January as he averages 26 points a game, but with Motiejunas emerging as a actual rotation player, Houston may be able to run a traditional 4-5 rotation for the entire game. Will that be enough to contain Aldridge and Portland’s offense, or will Portland catch up to tie the Spurs for 1st place in the West?
Tip off is at 7:00pm CST