Tonight the Rockets look for revenge. It’s that simple. It’s been 7-months and 21 days since this happened:
Entering tonight’s match versus Portland you can bet all the Houston players, coaches and fans have that shot firmly cemented in their minds as they look to snap a 2-game losing streak and reek their own revenge for a shortened playoff run this past season.
Blazers on fire:
The Blazers are currently on a 5-game win streak and are 8-2 in their last 10. Two big wins over the World Champion San Antonio Spurs (one in triple overtime) have the blazers feeling extremely confident as they come to the Toyota Center tonight. Portland currently sits just behind Golden State for second seed in the Western Conference with a 22-6 record. The big news has been their third ranked defense (Houston ranks second) an area they’ve vastly improved since last season.
Big man down:
Robin Lopez is out with a broken hand and will miss action for what is deemed close to a month in recovery. The Blazers in his absence haven’t missed a beat with Joel Freeland stepping into the starting line-up and Chris Kaman filling in with extra minutes off the bench
The Power of 5:
For my money the Blazers starting-5 unit (with a healthy Lopez) is about as good as they come in the Association. While All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard lead the way for the team it’s truly the intangibles of Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum which separates this team from their competition.
Aldridge ranks second in field goals (244), third in defensive win shares (1.8) eighth in rebounds per game (10.7) ninth in points per game (22.8) and was named player of the week for his efforts last week marking the second time this season he has garnered this honor.
Lillard: With the loss of Lopez the point guard has been stepping up and factors into several key categories: ranks seventh in win shares per 48-minutes (.235), second in minutes played, third for box score +/- with a plus +7.1, fifth for offensive win shares (3.3), fifth in win shares (4.9) and third in value over replacement player (6.7)
Matthews: is shooting the 3-point shot at a high clip getting off the second most attempts in the league (199), scoring the third most (75) and ranks ninth in field goal percentage (58.2%)
Batum: while he doesn’t ever seem to rank in the top-10 of any categories it’s Batum who is the x-factor for this team. On any given night he can pick up the slack in any key category and his defense is the team’s best.
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Houston gets a bit of a break in that LaMarcus Aldridge as listed as questionable for the game tonight dealing with an upper respiratory illness which is huge given Lopez is already out. Nic Batum is listed as probable after missing games due to the wrist injury he suffered in that nasty hit from Bucks Larry Sanders.
Although Portland has improved drastically over last season the fact they have to go deeper in their bench to address the loss of Lopez makes this an area where Houston can garner an advantage. If Aldridge does miss the game it will play an even greater role tonight. Assuming Corey Brewer gets his start tonight it will offer welcome relief for Ariza and Harden who are both nursing injuries. Bench stats per hoopsstats.com
May 2, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) reacts after Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) last second shot in the second half in game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center.Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
- Steal master Brewer should get his first start in a Rockets uniform and his presence not only offers pluses for bench production, but also for Ariza and Harden who’ll be the benefactors in reduced minutes due to his availability.
- Portland average 4-points better in their margin of victory
- Houston ranks fourth in steals with 8.9 per game and that was prior to adding league leading thief Corey Brewer to the mix (2.3 per game)
- Portland does a good job of taking care of the ball while Houston is second worst in the league, Rockets will need to clean this up to garner a win
- The Rockets take close to 10 additional 3-point attempts per game than Portland but garner only 2-additional makes. Let’s hope the shot is falling tonight as it could be the key difference in the game. In fact Portland and Houston rank 1 and 2 respectively in defending the 3-point shot
While we won’t know til game time if Aldridge is playing or not the fact remains Damian Lillard is the head of the snake for Portland. Patrick Beverley will need to hold Lillard at bay and keep him honest on the offensive end.
Keys to Winning:
- Slow the production of Lillard with a focus to building a sizable lead margin, this is one team you don’t want to let smell a chance or they’ll see blood
- Use bench depth to build a lead
- If Aldridge is out take advantage of Rocket’s size inside where it should equal a massive advantage in the paint.
As much as Portland is on a win streak and been on fire of late Houston is coming off back to back losses (and the first back to back losses at home this year) so need to get back on track. And of course there is that little matter to address from last May when Damian Lillard’s last second three pointer sent the Rockets to the showers early, ending Houston’s season.
The day has arrived as the Rockets look for revenge for that shot, that series and to regain their pride. The odds makers favor Houston by 3.5 and I’m inclined to agree.
See you back here after the game where we’ll rank the team’s performance and individual players on their execution