Trail Blazers vs Rockets Friday, 04/05/13 AT 07:30PM

Trail Blazers Welcome Back Aldridge, Host Fast-Paced Rockets

04/04/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    On Friday night the Portland Trail Blazers (33-42) will host the Houston Rockets (41-33). Tip-off is set for 7:30 and the game will be shown on both ESPN and CSNNW. It can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM as the Rockets will be looking to inch their way closer to clinching a playoff spot and the Trail Blazers look to snap a six-game losing streak with the return of LaMarcus Aldridge from injury.

       
    •    The last four games have been a great opportunity for Portland's younger players. Meyers Leonard has started four games in the absence of Aldridge and has done well on the offensive end. He's scored double-digit points in five straight games and even scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. However, Aldridge can get those type of numbers with regularity and his presence on defense has been felt severely. The defense in the pick and roll has been the toughest for the Trail Blazers to control all season and not having Aldridge who has active hands as well as good recovery and anticipation skills, only adds insult to injury. The Trail Blazers will need Aldridge's help as they have been losing by double-digits in every game that he's been out. Also, according to Synergy Sports Technology, the Rockets ball handlers rank 1st in points per possession in pick and roll plays (they rank second including passes). The reason this is so is because of the fantastic ability of James Harden and Jeremy Lin to break down defenses. Asik (6th) and Harden (13th) are the only pair of teammates in the top-15 in field goal attempts inside the restricted area. Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin are both in the top-50. The Rockets love to spread people out with usually only one true center (Asik or Greg Smith) and either Carlos Delfino or Donatas Montiejunas playing a stretch-4 position. They also have Thomas Robinson, whom they didn't have in the previous match-up, but he has only been playing 14 minutes a game since he was acquired. Montiejunas and Delfino have averaged 20 points between them from the power forward spot and average nearly 10 three-point attempts combined. So, this could be a game where the Trail Blazers go with a lot of small line-ups with Victor Claver possibly playing alongside Aldridge at center.
     
    •    The Trail Blazers can win the season series with a victory on Friday night. Both of their wins against the Rockets were dramatic, overtime games in which the Trail Blazers had to make timely plays to win. In the third match-up, the Trail Blazers in the midst of a February slump, went into Houston and the Rockets did what they do: scored a ton of points, had a lot of lay-ups and made a lot of threes. They were led by Harden who had a monster game of 35 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Aldridge went off that night with 31 points and 11 rebounds and Nicolas Batum, who did not practice on Thursday and will not play on Friday, scored 24 in the loss. Damian Lillard had a good game, scoring 18 points and dishing six assists. But, the Trail Blazers were not able to keep up with the Houston barrage of efficient attempts at the rim and threes.
     
    •    This is the type of game where Wesley Matthews shows his true character. Although the season has lost it's meaning as far as playing for a reason other than personal pride, Wes is a competitor unlike most. He dove for a lose ball and hit his back into a monitor because it's "the only way" he says he knows how to play. Nothing brings out the best in Matthews like the best and James Harden is one of the best in the game. Matthews got the best of him in the first match-up and in the third, Harden took over. It will be entertaining to be sure to see Matthews, one of the league's best competitors take on one of the league's most talented and efficient scorers in Harden.
      
    •    The presence of Eric Maynor in this match-up also allows the Trail Blazers more versatility this time around. Adding Maynor as well as the much improved Victor Claver, who started coming around when the two teams played last (five points, five rebounds), and Meyers Leonard, gives Portland more things with which to challenge the Rockets. Losing Batum, a big-time difference maker in their two early season wins against the Rockets, will certainly hurt. But, even without Batum, Maynor's presence allows Lillard to be able to play off the ball, something he couldn't always do effectively in the first three match-ups. It also allows Portland to have more playmakers on the court, something they will need to try and keep up with the Rockets. If anything, the Trail Blazers can't get into a shoot out with them but Maynor has helped make Portland's second units much better units on the offensive end, something that will certainly help against a team that has a lot of firepower like the Rockets do. The Rockets are efficient as they are sixth in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) but they also play at the league's fastest pace, averaging one more possession per game than the Nuggets, who are second fastest.

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