The four-five matchup in the Western Conference should be extremely entertaining to say the least. The Houston Rockets(4 seed) and the Portland Trail Blazers (5 seed) finished with the same regular season record of 54-28. The Rockets limped into the postseason going just 5-5 in their last 10 games of the season while the Blazers came in to the second season blistering hot, finishing 9-1 to capture the fifth seed. If this were the NCAA tournament, Portland would be the popular choice as they’re coming in rather hot. Well, this is the NBA Playoffs and series tend to have and ebb and flow that a one game playoff does not. Let’s take a look as to how these teams match up with each other and what each team must do to win the First Round Series.
The Rockets have made two huge acquisitions in the past two seasons, one being trading for James Harden and the other was winning the Dwight Howard Sweepstakes. Harden has proven himself to be one of the best shooting guards in the league in his short time in Houston, shedding the sixth man role he played as a member of the Thunder. Harden has averaged 25.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game in his two years as a Rocket. He meshed very well with Dwight Howard, Dwight struggled through an injury riddled year last season in Los Angeles. He’s returned to the All-Star caliber center that he’s been throughout his career. Howard averaged 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game this season, really changing Houston on both ends of the floor. As a team the Rockets are a force on the offensive end, finishing second in the league by scoring 107.7 points a game. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they also do a great job on the glass either with the addition of Howard, Houston is fourth in the league pulling down 45.3 rebounds a game. The Rockets aren’t a great defensive team, but have showed the ability to come up with key stops as evidenced by their 54 wins.
Keys to Victory
- Rebound the Basketball(Blazers were best team in the league on the glass)
- Slow down LaMarcus Aldridge, Terrance Jones will be key
- Chandler Parsons, Jones must help Harden and Howard on the offensive end(Consistency)
- Run the Blazers off the three point line(Shooting 37% as a team)
- Make Lillard a facilitator, averaging 20.7 points per game(shooting 39% from deep)
The Trail Blazers have made a remarkable turnaround in the past year, going from 33 wins to 54 this season. LaMarcus Aldridge has always been one of the more talented forwards in the league, he’s really taken a leap forward this year. Aldridge is gifted scorer, the most impressive part of his game this year has been his commitment to the glass. He’s never averaged more than nine rebounds per game in his career, with last season being the first that he averaged nine. Aldridge averaged a double-double this season, with 23.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. He and second year point guard Damian Lillard have led this team back to relevance, they are one heck of an offensive team. The Blazers share the ball well and knock down three’s at a high clip. They are also the league’s best rebounding team thanks to Aldridge, Lopez and Robinson. While defense isn’t a strong point, the amazing pressure they put on opposing defenses give them a great chance to win every night.
Keys to Victory
- Continue Dominance on the Boards
- Slow Down Dwight Howard, without doubling
- Defend the three, Houston shoots 35% from deep
- Limit the supporting cast, Harden will get his
- Bench has to win the battle every night
Stats used from ESPN.com