This Rockets-Blazers series is perhaps even more interesting than the others.
On one hand, you have the NBA's second-youngest team, Portland, who many expected not to become a legitimate contender until at least next year at the earliest. However, the Nate McMillan's squad is playing their best ball of the season at just the right time.
They're led by third-year guard Brandon Roy, a 24-year-old that is mature far beyond his years. He's the unquestioned leader of the team, and GM Kevin Pritchard has done an exceptional job of surrounding him with immense young talent up and down the roster. Roy's most notable sidekick is the 6'11" LaMarcus Aldridge, a player with great range for his size and perfect shooting touch around the basket.
On the other hand, you have the Rockets. They're a team that was basically written off after losing Tracy McGrady for the season, as well as trading away starting point guard Rafer Alston in exchange for 22-year-old backup Kyle Lowry.
However, Houston has responded quite well to the critics, having recorded one of the best records in the league since the All-Star break. The key for the Rockets has been maintaining a healthy roster down the stretch, something that has been a well-documented issue for them over the past couple of seasons. Yao Ming is the anchor in the middle, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds this season.
Yao has had plenty of help with the absence of McGrady, from the likes of players like Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks, and Luis Scola. Houston is one of the deeper teams in the league, and run up to 11 players deep.
Don't expect much runnin-n-gunnin in this series, as these are two teams that like to slow it down and play half-court offense.
The Rockets will have to find a way to get their big man the ball, as the Blazers bigs are likely to be fronting Yao in the post, denying him the ball. It's been a problem all season for the Rockets, and if they can't find a way to get Yao involoved regularly on that low block, they will be in big trouble in this series.
One major advantage Portland has over Houston is the presence of a late-game closer. Brandon Roy is as clutch as any player in the league, and his abilities to shoot from distance, get to the rim, and get to the line puts him a level above any of the perimeter players for Houston.
Both teams flaunt a major home court advantage, the Blazers with a 34-7 record, the Rockets 33-8.
This will be a gritty, hard-fought series for sure. If the Rockets can find a way to get Yao Ming going, they will have enough to take a game on the road, and eventually win the series. If not, the TrailBlazers will be very, very tough to beat, despite their lack of playoff experience.
I think the Rockets will find a way to win this series in seven games.