Random Ravings: Trail Blazers/Rockets Preview, Done Extra Crispy
You know, I've already written an overall playoffs preview. I've already spent hours collecting stats, analysing match-ups, and writing an article running on rock music, pizza, and Mountain Dew.
But you know, I can't resist doing a special, extended, super-sized preview of my favorite team, the Portland Trail Blazers, in their first playoff series since I was in high school learning how to shave without cutting my face apart (not much progress on that score, I'm afraid...ouch...).
What I'll do here is give you match-ups, extended thoughts and analysis, and a prediction, along with other pieces of goodness along the way.
We'll start with...
Point Guard: Steve Blake vs. Aaron Brooks
Thoughts: This one is tough to call. Brooks has the edge in quickness, and his passing ability has improved lately. He will need to be aggressive in leading the attack against the Blazer defense and create opportunities for those that can't do it themselves.
Blake, meanwhile, is the savvier of the two. He's as good a passer as Brooks, and a much better shooter, as evidenced by his career year in scoring (a solid 11 PPG). Blake doesn't have to create as much as Brooks, but the young Blazers will need his steady hand if they want to win the series.
Shooting Guard: Brandon Roy vs. Shane Battier
Thoughts: There aren't many Portland fans that don't know that Shane Battier can cover Brandon Roy.
In their three match-ups this year, Battier and his buddy Ron Artest have done an admirable job bottling up Roy, forcing him to either pass the ball or run headfirst into the wall of post defenders waiting for him. Battier doesn't score much, so he'll have to make his mark on defense.
Roy, meanwhile, has to get back to basics; namely, the midrange jumper. That shot has gone out of vogue with the NBA's lesser players, with coaches putting emphasis on three-point shooting and driving to the basket.
However, for the best players, the pull-up middie has been a consistent source of scoring whenever defenses try taking away the drive to the rack.
If Brandon wants to help his team, he needs to knock down the outside jumper--because this Houston team will not, not, NOT let him beat them any other way.
Small Forward: Nicolas Batum vs. Ron Artest
Thoughts: Stats-wise, this is a no-contest. However, I'll do this with the knowledge that Travis Outlaw will play the majority of the minutes at the 3-spot.
Artest is a player that gets points because he's stronger and more physical than the guy guarding him. He's taller than Roy, stronger than Batum, and wily enough to fool Outlaw. His scoring will be absolutely essential for the Rockets, and by the way...he plays pretty good defense, too.
Batum will need to be what he's been all season for the Blazers: a defensive presence that, once in a while, can knock down an open jumper. If he can play 6-8 solid minutes on Artest, Portland will get the good starts they need to get past Houston.
Advantage: Houston (when Batum is in)
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Luis Scola
Thoughts: Scola is one of those players that perfectly meshes physical play and savvy wiles. One minute he can be a brutish presence on the boards, aggressively brushing aside opposing big men like deadwood in his quest for the basketball.
The next minute, a post player bumps him while backing down, and he does a flop, drawing a foul on his counterpart. He is a competitive big man, which is always a worrisome trait for the opposition.
Aldridge is a taller power forward that can knock down the open jumper; we've heard that many times before. However, he's developed something resembling a post game, using his impossible length and athleticsm to elevate for baby hooks and flip shots.
LA has also worked on his rebounding, becoming the team leader in offensive rebounding...on a team that leads the league in offensive rebounding, a Blazer tradition if there ever was one.
Center: Joel Pryzbilla vs. Yao Ming
Thoughts: What can be said about Yao that hasn't already been said? He's a gargantuan man that is at least six inches taller than nearly all centers he faces. He's able to hit a fadeaway shot that cannot be defended.
He's worked hard on rebounding, to the point that's he's one-tenth of a percentage point away from the 20-10 zone coveted among big men. Yao has dominated whomever Portland's put against him this season, and that isn't likely to change.
What Joel and his fellow center, Greg Oden, have to do is get their bodies on Yao. Make him feel you bumping and pushing. Grind him down and outhustle him. Tire him out and make Houston go small.
Their task is made slightly easier by Yao's sore foot, but he's still going to be all they can handle. Whether he's more than they can handle is a question that will be answered by the end of the series.
Houston's bench can be described in one word: hustle. They outwork you, they outgrind you, they defend you very well. Carl Landry and Kyle Lowry are the main guys off the bench, and Von Wafer provides instant scoring for a unit that really doesn't have much of it.
Portland's bench, meanwhile, is all about scoring and offense. From Travis Outlaw's mad range of skills, to Rudy Fenandez's equally mad skill set, to Sergio Rodriguez's improved play, this unit can extend an early lead or erase an opponent's advantage with shocking rapidity.
What compounds Houston's problem is that Nate McMillian either has Roy or Aldridge playing with this unit at all times, though this may change if he uses Channing Frye.
The Coaches: Nate McMillian vs. Rick Adelman
Adelman's name should seem familiar to Portland fans: he's the man that coached the 1990 and '92 NBA Finals teams here. After leaving Portland, he led the Sacramento Kings to heights that franchise hasn't seen much of before or hasn't seen since.
Now with the Rockets, Adelman has seen his share of disappointment with this team, but if they can all just stay healthy, they'll get to where he wants them to go.
McMillian, meanwhile, is a rising star in the coaching profession. After returning from the Olympics after Team USA's successful gold-medal run there, he took the youthful Blazers to new heights, winning 54 games and securing the fourth seed in the playoffs just a year after missing them altogether.
While he hasn't seen nearly as much playoff action as a coach as Adelman, Nate has played on many playoff teams, including the 1996 Seattle Sonics team that made the Finals.
This should be a good coaching matchup, a chess match between two men that truly understand big-time basketball.
Prediction: God, I really don't know. These teams are matched up so well that it will take unforeseen quirks of fate to determine a winner. Intangibles will have to be the deciding factor, and I know Portland's full of them, despite being a very young team.
I know Houston has failed very often in the postseason, but they have the toughness of Artest and their bench to help a sore Yao. Tracy McGrady isn't around to blow another chance at advancing, but that doesn't mean Houston wouldn't want him around.
What will be the deciding factor is...us.
Literally, we the fans. Home-court advantage is huge for anyone, but for the Trail Blazers it will be the elixir that rejuvenates them when they're tired, spurs them on in close games, and raises their confidence level to the point that they feel that they can beat anyone.
Portland will win in seven games, but it will be by a whisker and a hair.
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