The Houston Rockets won 3 of the 4 regular season meetings with the Portland Trail Blazers this year, and will hold home court advantage in the their first round playoff series. Here are some key points of emphasis that shape up the matchup:
Bearding At Its Finest
James Harden became just the 5th player in the last 25 years to average at least 25 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists for a season. While Harden should receive some MVP votes, this series has the potential for him to elevate his status among the elites.
The Beard averaged 30.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and shot 45 percent from the 3-point line against the Blazers in the regular season. With Wesley Matthews not having too much success defending Harden, look for the Blazers to put defensive guru Nicolas Batum on him at times during the series.
Dominating The Paint
Outside of LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers don’t have too much of a low post presence on both ends of the court. Dwight Howard manhandled his way against Robin Lopez, averaging 26 points and 13.5 rebounds during the season, while shooting over 63 percent from the field. The Rockets also averaged 49 rebounds in the 4 games against the Blazers, and held the advantage in points in the paint in 3 of those games.
Who’s Got Aldridge?
The Rockets still have not found an answer for limiting LaMarcus Aldridge offensively. The University of Texas standout scored 27 points and grabbed 15.5 rebounds a game, while shooting 45 percent from the field against the Rockets in the regular season, and recorded a 31-point, 25-rebound effort in the Blazers’ lone win.
Terrence Jones only played 2 out of the 4 games, but struggled mightily. He was a team worst -26 in the 111-104 Dec. 12 matchup, and finished with just 2 points and 4 rebounds in 24 minutes in the last meeting.
The Patrick Beverley Experience
There’s been a war of words between Patrick Beverley and Blazers’ point guard Damian Lillard since the last meeting. With Beverley now good to go for the playoffs following a meniscus tear, the Rockets have held Lillard at bay for the most part.
While the All-Star averaged a respectable 19 points and 5 assists in the season meetings, he shot just 39 percent from the field, including a 1 for 10 shooting night Dec. 12 despite a Blazers’ win.
Beverley now gets the opportunity to do what he does best: follow, chase, run down, harass, and tire Lillard for 7 games.
Small Ball Lineups/Classic Western Shootouts
If someone brings up the old theory that playoff basketball slows down to become a half-court game, the Rockets and Blazers could become the latest examples of disproving that notion. The offensive numbers have a chance to be staggering in this series, as both teams shot over 50 percent and scored at least 105 points in each matchup during the season. On 2 occasions, each team attempted over 90 shots, and jacked up at least 25 3-pointers a game in each of the 4 meetings.
The Blazers will play a lot of Mo Williams alongside Lillard in the backcourt, with Wesley Matthews as the 3rd guard. That slides down Batum and Aldridge down to the 4 and 5, respectively, which allows the Rockets to go small as well. The quintet of Beverley, Jeremy Lin, Harden, Chandler Parsons, and Howard played the final 20-plus minutes in the Rockets’ comeback win on Mar. 9, and has proved to be their most lethal offensive lineup throughout the season.
This is the ideal matchup for the Rockets, as they struggled against both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers throughout the season. Against a Blazers team who’s rather poor defensively, and lives or dies by the jump shot, I see the Rockets coming out out on top in 5 games.