The Houston Rockets have found themselves in an unenviable situation, down two games to the Portland Trail Blazers. While it may not be time to hit the panic button, the first two games were played in Houston. The goal for every away team is to “steal” home court by winning one of the first two games on the road, the Blazers have done that and more by winning both games. As the series heads to Portland, the Rockets must be ready for Game 3. While the series is far from over, the possibility of going down 3-0 is not to be taken lightly. Portland has put themselves in a great situation, if they can hold down the fort, the series is over in two games. As for the Rockets, they must win one of the next two games just to keep the series alive. If Houston could return the favor the Portland, this series could be tied headed into Game 4.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been the best player in this series by far, the Rockets have yet to find an acceptable solution to defending him. Aldridge has been spectacular in both playoff games, presenting the Rockets with a multitude of problems. He posted 46 points, 18 rebounds and 2 blocks in Game 1; he followed that up with 43 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks in Game 2. Houston has tried different defenders, but all have failed. He’s too strong for Terrance Jones, too quick for Omer Asik. The only other option may be to put Dwight Howard on him, but that means pulling Howard from the rim. No one wants their rim protector floating around on the perimeter. Aldridge has displayed an array of post moves along with that deadly midrange jumper, he’s also been a beast on the glass. In past years, the knock on Aldridge’s game was his affinity for jump shots. “He didn’t spend enough time in the post” folks would say. The Rockets wish that was still the case, Aldridge has even hit a couple three pointers. Houston must figure out a way to slow him down, before he and the Blazers end their season.
Aldridge hasn’t been the only big man in this series who’s been productive, Dwight Howard has feasted as well. In Game 1 he scored 27 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and swatted four shots. He upped his point total in Game 2 (32 points), along with pulling down 14 rebounds while blocking another four shots. Houston has lost both games, by single digits at that. While the Rockets are searching for answers to defend Aldridge, they might consider allowing Howard to guard him for stretches. The other options have no chance against him, at least put Dwight on him down the stretch.
The Rockets also need to address the struggles of their other star player, James Harden. To say that he has struggled, is a monstrous oversight. It could be the Portland defense or it could be the Houston offense. While Dwight has had great games thus far, Harden and Parsons have struggled shooting the ball. The Rockets haven’t run many pick-and-rolls in this series involving Harden and Howard, they may want to get back to that. Dumping the ball down to Dwight in the post may have affected the rhythm of a few of Houston’s perimeter players, namely Harden. He has shot just 14 of 47 from the floor, just 5 of 19 from beyond the arc. As much as he’s struggled, the Rockets have lost each game by single digits. If Harden can get it going, Houston can find a common ground offensively so that Howard and Harden are engaged, they have a chance to get back in this series.
While Harden has struggled for the Rockets, second year point guard Damian Lillard has flourished. He’s taken a back seat to the inferno known as LaMarcus Aldridge. While he hasn’t shot the ball well, he’s found other things to do on the court to help his team. On the offensive end, he’s been sharing the ball and using his quickness to attack the basket, resulting in free throw attempts. Lillard has also contributed on the glass, he pulled down 9 rebounds in Game 1 and 8 rebounds in Game 2. Aldridge fouled out of Game 1, that’s when Damian took the reins and closed the door on the Rockets. Then fell back to his distributor role in Game 2, while Aldridge went off in another 40 point outing. Lillard has been impressive in his first postseason outing, he just needs to be ready to attack if Aldridge comes back down to earth.
Game 3 will be huge for both teams, with a win the Rockets will extend the series and ensure that they get back to Houston. If the Blazers win, they are just one game away from advancing to the second round and disposing of the Houston Rockets. Here’s a few things to keep an eye on in Game 3:
- Aldridge, will Houston finally slow him down?
- Three point shooting, will the Rockets regain their touch from deep?
- Bench production, which team’s unit steps up
- Houston Offense, more Harden-Howard Pick-and-Rolls
- Harden, if Houston can get him going