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Portland Must Be Ready To Run In Houston

02/08/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    The Trail Blazers (25-24) are in Houston to face the Rockets (27-24). It's the third meeting between these two teams, with this one being the most important one yet as far as the playoffs are concerned. The game will tip off at 5PM at the Toyota Center and be shown on CSNNW. It can also be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM. Damian Lillard was selected first overall in the BBVA Rising Stars game last night and will be playing in Houston again one week from today.

        •    The Trail Blazers, as we all know by now, have had some crazy games. They find themselves in close games every time, but nothing brings out the craziness quite like playing against the Rockets. Both games against Houston have been overtime barn-burners and two of this seasons most memorable wins. On the first night, Nicolas Batum led a third quarter comeback to get Portland in the game, Wesley Matthews made a big defensive stop on James Harden in the final play of regulation and Damian Lillard took over in the overtime period , scoring eight of his 20 points for their second win of the year. The second occasion was somehow more exciting. Nicolas Batum scored a career-high 35 points with five blocks with LaMarcus Aldridge dropping 29 points and Lillard closing the game out late, finishing with 27 points. James Harden a more efficient game in the second match-up and he has continued to play well. Marcus Morris was a big difference maker in the second match-up but it Houston seems to have an endless supply of players on their bench to play in their up-tempo (1st in Pace, 98.76 possessions per game), hyper-spaced offense. The Rockets play at the league's fastest pace and the Trail Blazers play at one of the league's slower paces (20th in Pace, 93.57 possessions per game), so it will be an adjustment. Portland got their number twice already. The Rockets lost a close game at Miami on Wednesday night with James Harden scoring 36 points. The game is as big for them as it is for the Trail Blazers and both teams will be eager to get the taste of defeat out of their mouths.
      
     •    With which personnel will Portland attack the Rockets? It's been a different answer in both games and with success of Portland's primary small unit of Aldridge-Babbitt-Batum-Matthews-Lillard, it will be interesting to see for how long Terry Stotts will turn to that unit against a team that spaces the floor for 48 minutes like this unit does when they are in together.  Another possibility could be playing Victor Claver as a stretch-four. Houston's offense is based around having four guys spot up all over the three-point line, pick and rolls and then cuts. But it's all created from their spacing. Patrick Patterson is a solid 37 percent shooter from distance as the team's starting power forward. Jeremy Lin is the worst three-point shooter (30 percent) of the players that get consistent minutes but his ability to get to the rack is something Portland, and specifically Damian Lillard have to respect. Lin has yet to breakout against the Trail Blazers. Defensively, the individual match-ups like Lillard against Lin, Matthews against Harden and Batum against Chandler Parsons will all be important. What Portland has to be weary against is when they miss a shot. Omer Asik, their starting center collects 30 percent of all defensive rebounds when he is on the floor and he's become extremely good at the outlet pass. Houston's players are the best in the league at leaking out after a missed shot so the Trail Blazers have to be conscious of when their men leak out so that they can stop the ball penetration and hopefully prevent open transition threes. The Rockets are in transition for 16.9 percent of their possessions, tied for first in the NBA according to Synergy Sports Technology.
       
    •    The Trail Blazers need to find extra points. With Batum continuing to play through a sore and visibly bothersome right wrist, it's limited his shooting ability. With Batum being limited, Portland has relied even more on LaMarcus Aldridge who has been on a tear over his last five games. Aldridge is averaging 23 points, 11.4 rebounds, three assists and 1.4 blocks per game in the last five. Portland has been able to work through Aldridge more and more when their offense has struggled, but they need to find ways to get back some of the 15.5 points per game that Batum is usually responsible for. If he's more willing to shoot and is wrist isn't bothering him so much, that will be a welcome sight. But Portland has got to be able to find ways for Batum to get easier looks at the basket or squeeze more points out of their bench and transition opportunities. Opportunities won't be hard to come by in this game that will likely be fast-paced, but the Trail Blazers cannot let Houston dictate the entire pace of this game. If they are given transition opportunities, they must capitalize, but they surely don't want to get into a track meet with the Rockets with one of their biggest weapons in the last two games against them limited offensively due to injury. For Portland to win, this game will have to be more like the first match-up rather than the second.

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