The high-powered offenses are set to face off for a seven game series beginning Sunday at the Toyota Center in Houston. The Rockets and Blazers matchup extraordinarily well with both teams featuring stellar front courts and perimeter shooting. This series is likely to be high-scoring with each offense boasting a superb efficiency rating on offense (Rockets and Blazers are 4th and 5th respectively in the league). Both teams won 54 games in the season and they faced off four times with Houston taking three of them by an average of six points. There is no doubt that this series could be one of the highlights of the entire playoffs.
The Rockets are led by their two perennial All-Stars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. After much controversy during his one season in Los Angeles, Howard has become a consistent option for the Rockets this season with averages of 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. He added to the front court that already consisted of Omer Asik and the young and talented Terrence Jones. With Howard in the lineup, Asik moved to the second unit only bolstering Houston’s depth. Howard can matchup with essentially any center in the league with his excellent defense at the rim and footwork on offense. Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez are decent rim protectors with Aldridge averaging 1 block a game and Lopez with 1.7. Howard is set to make his mark on the series. On the other hand, Terrence Jones is still a young power forward looking to learn. Jones had a drastic improvement this season from his rookie campaign. Jones cracked the starting unit with averages of 12.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He complements Howard in the front court nicely and this series should be no different. If he can average 12 and 9 in the series, he will provide a major boost to Houston’s offense.
Yet, it is the back court that will have the advantage in this series. The tenacious guard Patrick Beverley will surely make a difference in this series. He has averaged 31.3 minutes, 10.2 points, 2.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game this season. Beverley, well known for his ability to pester opposing guards, must play harder against the Blazers’ Guard Damian Lillard to limit his production. The aforementioned Harden has truly transformed into an All-NBA caliber player during his time in Texas. His loaded stat line includes 25.4 points, 6.1 assists, and 4.7 rebounds a game. His statistics against Portland are even more impressive. His splits against the team include 30.3 points, 5.3 assists, and 7.3 rebounds in their four regular season meetings. The second unit includes PG Jeremy Lin who has averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists. Houston needs him to heat up from beyond the three point arc for the second unit to contribute with Harden off the floor. Perimeter shooting from Houston’s guards should be a difference maker in this series. The Rockets’ head coach, Kevin McHale is hoping that the Rockets will not have to live and die by the three ball. Still, that is what might occur as this series unfolds.
Portland Trail Blazers
Similar to Houston, the Trail Blazers boast an impressive front court highlighted by the veteran play of PF LaMarcus Aldridge. He had a spectacular season averaging 23.2 points and 11.1 boards per game, both career highs. Aldridge failed to bring his team to the postseason the last couple seasons, but he has nice career averages in the playoffs with 19.8 points and 7 rebounds. If this regular season serves as any indication, he will improve on these numbers. Despite Terrence Jones probably matching up against him the majority of the time, he will see a bit of Howard on the low block. This may force Aldridge to take more mid-range jumpers, which is one of his strong suits. LA has one of the best mid-range games for a power forward in the entire NBA. Besides him, Portland has C Robin Lopez in the front court. The seven-footer has only seen playoff action once before with the Suns in 2010, when they lost in six games in the first round. This season was among Lopez’s best though and he’ll provide valuable minutes for Portland in the opening series. He will likely fall into foul trouble when guarding Dwight in the post, but it should be effective as Howard is an atrocious free throw shooter.
The Trail Blazers feature a young and talented back court with All-Star PG Damian Lillard and SG Wesley Matthews. Portland is hoping Damian Lillard’s debut in the playoffs will be similar to Derrick Rose’s debut which included 36 points and 11 assists. Lillard has had himself an impressive sophomore season averaging 20.8 points, 5.6 assists, and 3.6 rebounds. Perhaps, more of the same is in store for fans during the playoffs. His unbelievable three point shooting (218 this season) will be a major part of Houston’s defensive gameplan. If Lillard can shoot the three ball effectively, Portland will be a tough team to beat. Matthews will need to pick up his defensive game against superstar James Harden throughout the series. If Harden can be contained, which is not likely, then the Trail Blazers have a good shot of winning the series because the scoring burden falls on the shoulders of Dwight Howard. I do not believe that Portland Head coach Terry Stotts will employ the Hack-a-Howard throughout the series, but it is certainly a possibility. Howard will be unable to capitalize on his trips to the free throw line and then the advantage falls to the Trail Blazers if the Hack-a-Howard is used correctly.
Houston Will Advance In 6 Games
It would not be surprising to see at least a couple of the games in this series going into overtime. These teams are evenly matched with both sharing the same winning percentage (.659), offensive tendencies, and two All-Star players. Although all four All-Stars in this series play different positions, it is a very real possibility to see Howard matchup with Aldridge and Harden with Lillard. Houston wins in this series because of their greater depth and more consistent defense in the paint. Harden and Howard, the better of the four All-Stars, cannot afford anymore early playoff exits. They have already suffered their fair share and need to step up and prove to fans they can compete for an NBA title. They may not attain the elusive ring immediately. But this will be a start.