Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers: First matchup preview
By Michael Knight
The Rockets will face off against the Trail Blazers multiple times this season. How well does the team match up against Portland?
One miniature rivalry in the NBA right now is the one between the Rockets and the Trail Blazers. The two teams have had some fantastic games over the past few years, but the reason for the rivalry is based on one shot. I won’t mention the specifics.
Be sure to check out our friendly rivals over at Rip City Project.
This season, the Rockets seem to match up pretty well against the Blazers. Let’s take a look at the details:
Houston Rockets projected starting 5
PG: Chris Paul
SG: James Harden
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Ryan Anderson
C: Clint Capela
Portland Trail Blazers projected starting 5
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: C.J. McCollum
SF: Maurice Harkless
PF: Al-Farouq Aminu
C: Jusuf Nurkic
Both teams have above average starting 5s. They both also arguably have a top 5 backcourt. Let’s talk about that first.
The backcourt is the main strength for the Blazers and the Rockets. For the Rockets, they have one of the best two-way point guards in Chris Paul and the best scoring shooting guard in James Harden. The Blazers have often overlooked superstar Damian Lillard, who deserves more All-Star visits than he has, and up-and-coming star C.J. McCollum. While long-term the Blazers
While long-term the Portland guards might be better than Houston’s, currently both of the Rockets backcourt are top 10 players in the whole league. Both of the Portland guards are also average to below-average defenders, while only Harden is in Houston. Therefore:
Backcourt Advantage: Houston
As for the frontcourt, this one is tough to judge. Both teams have players that fit perfectly into their offensive systems. For example, if you put Ryan Anderson in Portland, he would be out of place. If you put Aminu in Houston, he would be underutilized due to his inconsistent 3-point shot. Harkless and Ariza are similar players, but with Moe being younger, we’ll give him the advantage.
As for the center position, Capela and Nurkic are both young and talented players. Capela is a more athletic center built for the Houston offense. Nurkic is a slower but more talented offensive player than Clint. With the way that Capela plays defense (and is improving on that end each year), we’ll give him the edge. As you can see, the frontcourts are fairly even for both teams. So:
Frontcourt Advantage: Even, maybe leaning towards Portland
Let’s move onto the benches
Rockets main bench lineup
CP3/Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, Nene Hilario
Trail Blazers main bench lineup
Shabazz Napier, Lillard/McCollum, Evan Turner, Caleb Swanigan/Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard
Both teams’ benches are great on paper. The Rockets have one of the best ball handlers on the court at all times surrounded by shooting and defense. The Blazers have two players that can handle the rock (Lillard/McCollum and Turner) in addition to some young talent.
We’re going to give the advantage to Houston, and here’s why:
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The Rockets have a bench full of players who could be starting elsewhere. Last season before being traded to Toronto, Tucker was a part-time starter for Phoenix. Luc Mbah a Moute started a ton of games for Los Angeles last season. Eric Gordon gave up a starting job in New Orleans to come off the bench for Houston. Nene was a starter in Washington prior to last year and even started some games for Houston. The Rockets have a deep, talented bench that can get it done on both sides of the court.
The Blazers, though, should have a much-improved bench unit this season. The addition/drafting of Caleb Swanigan should prove beneficial to the team in the present and in the future. He could turn into a star, so look out there. Leonard, though inconsistent, can really shoot the basketball at times. Any lineup with Lillard or McCollum is dangerous offensively. Evan Turner is an interesting player that is a fringe-starter and can help lead the second unit. Napier is developing into a great shooter. However, in the end, the Rockets have the advantage.
Bench Advantage: Rockets
The coaching for both teams is fantastic. Terry Stotts has been coaching in Portland since 2012 and was there when the Blazers beat the Rockets in the playoffs a few years ago. The Rockets, on the other hand, have offensive genius, Mike D’Antoni. Both teams are fairly set for awhile in terms of coaching.
Season Series Prediction
The Rockets and Blazers play four times this season. I would say that the Rockets will take three of those games, but expect them to be close and good ones.
The first game against Portland is on December 9 when the Rockets travel to them. My prediction is that the Rockets will drop this game, but win the next three against them.
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