By: mitchell felker
- The Houston Rockets won three out of their four games in the season-series against the Portland Trail Blazers this season, winning games one, three and four by 15, 13 and 5 points respectively, and losing game two by 7.
- Both teams had very good health for all four games, as Terrence Jones was the only player to miss a game for either team (game 3).
- Dwight Howard and James Harden were excellent against the Blazers in the season-series, averaging roughly 56 ppg, 21 rpg and 7 apg combined.
- Speaking of Harden, he shot more threes against Portland than he did against any other team this year, averaging 8.3 per contest, and he still managed to hit them at high rate (45.5%). San Antonio (50%) and Minnesota (61.9%) were the only W.C. teams to suffer worse at Harden's hands from deep.
- LaMarcus Aldridge has been a monster on the boards against Houston, averaging 15.5 per with 4.8 of those being offensive rebounds.
- Neither team is especially good at forcing turnovers, and both are in the bottom-5 in TO ratio. The Rockets were 23rd (13.4 per) in the league at causing turnovers, while the Blazers were dead last (11.6). Portland, however, is much better at protecting the ball, finishing 6th (13.3 per) to Houston's t-29th ranking (15.4).
- Neither team has any injuries heading into the series, but Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverley and to a lesser extent Chandler Parsons are all still nursing ailments for the Rockets. And for the Blazers, Joel Freeland has only played in one game since spraining his right MCL in mid-January.
Insider’s View – Q&A with Joe Swide of Portland Roundball Society.
Follow Joe on Twitter @pdxroundball and @joe_swide.
What positional matchup do you find most intriguing?
JS - Damian Lillard's noble fight at the point against the embodiment of evil, super-villain Patrick Beverley, will be the centerpiece of the series from a #narrative and theatrical standpoint. There will be dirty plays (on behalf of Beverley because Lillard would never disrespect his fellow man). There will be slow-motion replays in which we speculate as to the inner workings of their emotions and motives for particular actions. There will be Twitter wars between fans of both sides and lo, Twitter blood will be spilt.
HOWEVER, the most important matchup by far, and the one I find most intriguing as a Blazer fan who hopes to see his team win, is LaMarcus Aldridge against the menu of stretch fours offered by Houston. The Rockets are one of the few teams in the league that have two traditional bigs that can match those of the Blazers, yet Portland tends to struggle much more when the Rockets go smallish with Chandler Parsons, PRODIGAL SON OF PORTLAND Terrence Jones The Dap King, or Donatas Motiejunas. Although really, I'm most afraid of Parsons, whose three-point shooting prowess and stunning good looks will draw LaMarcus away from the paint, thus hindering the Blazers' defend-the-rim-and-rebound by numbers approach.
On the other end, Aldridge hasn't exploited Parsons on the block nearly as much as their body-types would seem to allow, instead conceding the turnaround mid-range jumpers that are more than welcome by the basketball establishment in Houston. But recently, Aldridge has looked a bit more aggressive when attacking lesser men in the post as his form has gradually improved after returning from his mysterious butt injury.
MF - Love that "#narrative" line, and you're right, Beverley/Lillard will be the first mention every time a new network is introducing the two teams all series. However, my focus will be on James Harden and Wes Matthews. Harden is the best player in this series and if he plays well the Rockets should win easily. Harden can struggle at times against strong two-way players like Matthews or JJ Redick of the Clippers, guys who have the range to punish Harden's defensive lapses and still make him work for his offense. Matthews played well against Houston in the season series, but if he can slow Harden and play him close to a draw, the Blazers can hang with the Rockets.
Unless Harden torches Matthews and forces a defensive change, watching Chandler Parsons and Nic Batum battle it out for seeding in the second-tier of very-good small forwards will be an absolute pleasure as well. Kawhi Leonard supplanted Luol Deng as the number one contender, but Parsons and Batum are right there.
Unfortunately, the Blazers are kind of all x-factors. Like the entire team is one giant X, the unknown variable in an algebra equation. Will Aldridge play at the MVP-ballot level seen earlier in the season? Will the defense look competent and even potentially effective? Will Wes Matthews shoot fireballs from three-point range? How fit is Joel Freeland? Will we see Mo Williams the Conscienceless Gunslingin' God, or will we see Mo Williams the Conscienceless Reason for Depression--and oh man I guess Mo Williams would have to be the biggest x-factor because his play has the largest impact by far on whether the bench unit will provide strong minutes or if those minutes will birth the apocalypse. But oh, God, I'm just not in a strong enough mental place to say that this playoff series will depend on the play of Mo Williams. Let's move on please.
Harden and Howard dominated in Houston's season-series against Portland and their performances could render any x-factor talk moot. So while a role player, even someone like Chandler Parsons, won't necessarily be required to make-or-break this series for the Rockets, if Jeremy Lin can find even a shred of confidence(? consistency? fire?) and out-play Williams, the Rockets could sweep the series.
The Blazers win if...
Here's the most likely Blazer-winning scenario: the starters all regain their early-season form. The ball movement is pristine. Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum shoot something like 45% from three-point range. LaMarcus punishes any and all stretch fours put in front of him. Damian Lillard finds those enormous shots when all else breaks down. The defense is sound. James Harden and his Beard struggle to get to the rim. Robin Lopez stays out of foul trouble. The manic experience of Mo Williams enjoys a week-long high. Thomas Robinson brings fire when necessary. Will Barton brings art when--wait nah the Blazers probably wouldn't need Barton to bring anything if everything else goes right but still, The People's Champ should always be involved.
The Rockets win if...
Harden and Howard are the best two players on the court. Howard and Patrick Beverley can carry the team on defense. The Rockets control the boards and keep Aldridge off the glass. Kevin McHale finds the right wing off the bench to fill in for the second unit. Houston keeps the turnover battle close, if not wins it outright.
Blazers in 6 because the first step in any good lie is convincing yourself that it's true.
Rockets in 5, because the truth shall set you free.
What non-Rockets v Blazers series are you most excited to watch?
JS - I'm most excited about the Spurs-Mavs series. I love watching the Spurs play for all the reasons that everyone loves, or hates, the Spurs. Plus, there are so many old people in that series that I think instead of the reckless desperation that can arise in a playoff series when two teams don't quite know what to make of the importance. Spurs-Mavs will be just high level basketball with coaching adjustments on adjustments, plenty of unique players with fun, idiosyncratic styles, and when it ends, there will be no malice, only mutual respect.
MF - It's a shame Andrew Bogut is out with his rib injury, because Clippers v Warriors was setting up to be epic. That leaves Thunder v Grizzlies as the first-round series I'll be watching the closest. You can call Memphis' second-round victory over OKC last year a fluke, the Thunder were missing Russell Westbrook after all, but the Grizzlies still have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to grind on the Thunder.
And as for potential matchups later in the playoffs, in our Red94 round table I picked a plausible Eastern Conference second-round scenario to be the most intriguing, but I've changed my mind. The NBA fan in me just can't stop salivating over a possible LeBron v Durant war in the Finals. That has the potential to be an 80's style rivalry for several more years. MJ never found his match
mostly because he dodged Hakeem's peak, Shaq and Kobe beat themselves and Duncan's biggest rivals were Kobe and Steve Nash, who he never played in the Finals.
Not since Bird and Magic have the two best players in the league had an honest to goodness championship rivalry. Durant has been pushing for LeBron's crown hard this season and it would be incredible to watch him take another crack at it.