Friday, January 29, 2010

Trail Blazers @ Rockets: Game 48

In a battle of two teams heading the same direction, the reeling Trail Blazers (27-20), losers of two straight and four of their last six, head down south to face off against the Rockets (24-21) who are on their own three-game losing skid. As you all know, guard Brandon Roy will not make the Texas Two Step road trip, which puts even more pressure on everyone else to step up and not allow the team's first three-game losing streak since December of 08. Fortunately for Portland's playoff hopes, only the Jazz have stepped up and taken advantage of our latest drought as the Blazers still find themselves sitting in 6th place in the Western Conference with hopes of welcoming back their All-Star as soon as Monday. Getting a split on this quick road trip would do wonders for our playoff chances and tonight puts the team in the best position to get a win as tomorrow will be a back to back against a much tough Maverick team.
One positive about tonight's matchup is the fact Portland isn't completely undersized as both teams have had to deal with their starting centers being injured for the season. When Houston beats us up, it usually starts on the glass. It is a must tonight for not only Aldridge and Howard, but small forwards Webster and Batum to get dirty in the paint and rebound. Portland is still #1 in holding the opposition in rebounds at 37.85 a game, but Houston averages an even 42 every game. The Rockets occupy three of the top scrappiest players in the league in regards to Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, and Carl Landry, which means the Blazers can not come into this game with their heads down and lack energy, otherwise it will be a long night on the glass.
Although Trevor Ariza had a career-high 33 points on 5-8 from distance during the Halloween night victory for Houston over Portland, he has came back down to earth in the month of January. In 12 games this month, Ariza is netting only 14 a night on 38.8% shooting from the floor and a dismal 26.1% from behind the arc. The player Portland needs to keep their eye on is former Duck Aaron Brooks who had a coming out party in last season's playoff series and had contributed 28 points in the October 31st win as well. I hope we see little of Blake or Miller on Brooks as he is too lightning quick, and more Jeryd Bayless and Nicolas Batum trying to disrupt his rhythm. Bayless must be careful he doesn't get too aggressive and pick up touchy fouls on Brooks, but he definitely possesses the quickness to keep up. On the other hand, Batum has the length and just enough lateral quickness to bother Brooks as he has done to Deron Williams and Tony Parker before in the past.
For Portland to get a W tonight, they must ride the broad shoulders of LaMarcus Aldridge. Chuck hayes, albeit undersized, is really one of the best low-post defenders in the game. One way LMA can take him out of his rhythm is by doing something different every time down the floor. Also, be aggressive and force him into foul trouble. If LaMarcus can get easy points in the paint, look for that to really spread the floor for our shooters. Finally, without any shot blockers in there for the Rockets, Miller and Bayless need to take advantage and penetrate. The best way to get out of a team-wide shooting funk is to get to the charity stripe.
I really want to predict a Blazer victory, but after starting off 2-0 without Roy in the lineup, the team's record without him has drastically decreased to 3-4 and the Cinderella magic seems to be wearing off. I do think the Blazers will get off to much better starts than they have these past two home games and keep it close down the stretch, but Carl Landry has been playing at an All-Star level this year and is a prime candidate for 6th Man, Scola always gives us fits, and Aaron Brooks will deliver some huge daggers in the crunch.
Game 48 Prediction: Trail Blazers 92 Rockets 98
Post-Game Thoughts
You live by the jump shot and you die by the jump shot. Are the Trail Blazers ever going to learn this? In a game where they actually owned the size advantage inside, for likely the last time this season,the Trail Blazers were absolutely destroyed by points in the pant. Houston, with no player taller than about 6'8" (no David Anderson doesn't count), was able to get 52 inside, compared to Portland's 32. I don't chalk those numbers up to anymore than just a mentality. The Rocket players love to scrap and fight for loose balls and put it in around the hoop. They aren't satisfied with jump shots. Until Portland learns to play with a little but more of that mentality, there will be no championships in the Rose City. Jump shooting teams do not win.
In a game where both teams desperately needed the win, Houston definitely wanted it more. Their aggressive play was rewarded by the officials to the tune of 43 trips to the line, compared to Portland's 21. Were there some iffy/controversial calls? Sure, but what game doesn't have them? The bottom line in the NBA is the aggressors get the benefit of the doubt. Another deciding factor in the loss last night was the battle underneath the boards. Portland allowed Houston to match their seasonal average of 42 rebounds, while we could only grab 38. It was the offensive rebounds that killed us once more. Every time we needed a stop in the 2nd half, Houston would come up with an offensive rebound and put a sputter to our momentum. The play which summed up the entire Blazers/Rockets matchup these past two seasons occurred after Rudy just got done going all Reggie Miller on the Rockets, hitting three after three after three. When it was all said and done, Portland was down by two with Landry at the line. He made the first, but the 2nd hit back rim and got tipped out into the hands of a Houston player to close the game. All we needed was one rebound to have a shot and came up short
I can't believe we didn't shadow Aaron Brooks with Jerryd Bayless or Nic Batum all night long. We all saw how he destroyed Steve Blake in the playoffs, but we felt good letting Brooks isolate on Blake? By no means is this a knock on Blake. He just isn't quick enough, like the majority of NBA point guards, to stick with or disrupt Brooks' game. Aaron had 33 points (11-21) and 7 dimes, so there was no stopping him tonight, but when Batum and Bayless did get the defensive assignment on him, the points were a little fewer and far between.
"The point guards in the last few games have just blown by us," McMillan said. "The weak side is not helping, and we are not guarding anyone. We have to bend our knees and guard somebody."
On a night that saw Portland lose for the third time in a row, the first such losing streak in approximately 14 months, did provide some encouraging plays from two people. First, Nicolas Batum continues to "WOW" after every performance this year and tonight was no different. He filled up the stat sheet nicely, going for 12 points (4-7), a career-high 9 rebounds and 5 assists, and a steal in his 27 minutes of action. It's only a matter of time before he gets himself into game shape and plays 35 minutes a night. The other unsung hero for me tonight was Dante Cunningham. I know, I know, Rudy had 25 points and a barrage of threes to keep it close, but he had some costly turnovers and didn't play very good defense. Dante, on the other hand, is becoming the team's best ball-denial defender. He gets low to the ground and uses what his mama gave him to keep his man away from the ball. The effort and intensity in which he plays defense is admirable enough, but his 6 points (3-6), all in the 3rd, kept the game within striking distance during a major Houston run. In fact, his defense was so good that the turning point in the game was his 5th foul early in the 4th, forcing him to sub out and Howard check in. The longer the season goes, the more holes are starting to appear in Juwan's game, which is expected as he is 37 and wasn't supposed to play big minutes. He just doesn't have the energy to play the type of defense Dante was.
Box Score

1 comment:

  1. Bet we'll see a lot of zone tonight. None of the Blazer guards can stay in front of Brooks.