The Houston Rockets and Trail Blazers are two offensive minded teams that lingered in the bottom-third of defensive efficiency despite posting strong records in the Western Conference. And the Blazers are a strong unit, especially in its starting five.
The focus, of course, is primarily on the tandem of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. Aldridge averaged 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game and Lillard posted 20.7 points and 5.6 assists.
Lillard is a talented guard capable of deconstructing defenses a lot of different ways. He improved his three-point shooting to 39.4 percent this season, just barely falling shy of the 40 percent goal he set for himself prior to the season. He’s lightning quick off the dribble and has a great set of handles. Lillard only turns it over 2.4 times per game.
And the Rockets are hoping to counteract all of this with Patrick Beverley. The hope is that Beverley’s knee is ready for this matchup. He didn’t look as though he had his timing back fully in the final two games of the regular season, and he’ll head the most important part of the Rockets’ D.
If Beverley can return to his usual self, he’ll be capable of making Lillard’s series a living hell. But don’t expect Portland’s young All-Star to lie down on this one. Lillard and the Blazers weren’t expected to be this good and his rapid improvement has been instrumental in the team earning a spot in the playoffs.
Beyond Lillard, Aldridge presents a lot of problems. Though Terrence Jones is a good defender, he doesn’t have the experience and practice against the likes of Aldridge to inspire mass confidence in the matchup.
Switching Dwight Howard onto Aldridge presents even more problems because that’s a good way to get the starting center in foul trouble. Aldridge’s step back jumper is nearly unguardable, and he has a high release point on his shot that renders it nearly unblockable.
It may not even be a matter of how to stop Aldridge, but rather keeping Lillard from creating for the other Trail Blazers. Wes Matthews, Nic Batum and Robin Lopez are all decent scorers, but the majority of the headaches will come from Lillard and Aldridge. Matthews and Batum are both lights out shooters though and will benefit from any blunders committed in defensive rotations.
Though the Blazers pose a lot of problems for the Rockets, the Rockets may pose even more for Portland. Portland was worse defensively than Houston this season, and the Rockets at least have plus defenders at two of the five positions.
This series will be high scoring, but the Rockets are going to have to hedge the pick and roll effectively, deny the ball to Aldridge, and hope its own high scoring defense is enough to propel it past the Blazers into the second round.