The Blazers displayed their youth from the opening tip-off, en route to a 108-81 blowout from the upstart Houston Rockets.
For the Portland Trail Blazers, the 2008-2009 regular season was marked by a myriad of changing goals. First, the Blazers focused their sights on finishing the season with an above .500 record. Second, they vowed to make the playoffs and end the franchise's six-year playoff drought. Third, they dedicated themselves to obtain home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
All of these goals have been met. The regular season was a complete success for the young Blazers. But this is the playoffs, and now higher goals have been set, such as advancing past the first round.
The Houston Rockets may be without their team leader and superstar in Tracy McGrady, but the Blazers still have yet to figure out how to deal with one large problem, a 7' 6'' tall problem to be exact: Yao Ming.
Let's be honest with ourselves. Portland's two headed monster, Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden, will not be able to stop Yao Ming. He is simply too tall to be blocked, and too talented to be stopped. We saw this last night, with both Portland centers getting into foul trouble.
Unless the Blazers somehow resurrect Goliath from biblical times, or can lure Maunte Bol or Gheorge Muresan back from retirement, the Blazers will not be able to stop Yao Ming by playing defense. The only way the Blazers can minimize Yao's effect on the game is to get him into foul trouble.
Brandon Roy realized this in the first quarter, as he drove to the lane on offense and was able to make Yao foul him. But after Yao Ming left the game, the Blazers stopped driving to the hoop, and settled for outside shots.
Normally this would have been fine, since the Blazers lead the league in offensive rebounding. However, the Blazers only recorded 15 offensive rebounds. While this seems adequate, the Rockets recorded 36 defensive rebounds. The Rockets (total) out-rebounded the Blazers 44-30.
The Blazers were bested in every facet of the game. Houston shot at a higher percentage, earned more trips to the charity stripe, out-rebounded Portland on both ends, and played more physical defense.
Should Portland have been granted more trips to the foul line? Absolutely. The officiating was some of the worst I've seen in playoff basketball. That being said, one cannot solely blame the officials for the outcome of the game.
What I saw in Game One was a Blazers team that looked rattled, afraid, and confused. It seems as if all the playoff hype that surrounded this young team psyched them out of their groove.
What happened to the squad I saw rough up the Boston Celtics in December? The officials are going to let Houston play physical. That means that players like Luis Scola and Ron Artest will be able to get away with throwing elbows to the face, swatting defenders' hands, and hooking around players to gain position.
I also saw a Blazers team that did not argue with the officials to get calls to go their way. They backed down, and let Houston bully them all game long, like a third grader being bullied by a sixth grader.
Somebody needs to get a technical foul call by calling the officiating out on their bad calls, because otherwise, the officials will keep turning a blind eye to the Blazers' cause.
Even if the Blazers cannot stop Yao Ming, and if they cannot convince the officials that the calls they make, or lack thereof, are bogus, they need to do two things which they lacked in Game One: They need to play much more physical defense, and they need to push the tempo of the game.
Keep in mind that the Houston Rockets are a team that like to play games in the '70s. They play a down-tempo, defense-oriented game. The Blazers play up-tempo offense, but also play hard defense. They can do both because of their youth.
There is no single player who can run the floor better than LaMarcus Aldridge. Even though Sergio Rodriguez can be messy with his passing and inconsistency, Portland's "Spanish Armada" of Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez can speed down the court for many fast break points.
So, with one playoff game under their belts, the Blazers have gotten the butterflies out, and have gotten the lousy play out of their systems. For the rest of the series, Portland's game-plan should consist of four key parts.
1.) They need to drive to the basket on offense and get players like Yao Ming and Luis Scola to foul them. If the shots are blocked, they need to crash the boards, and earn that second chance to score.
2. If the officials are not calling any fouls on the overly physical Houston Rockets, they need to stand up for themselves and make the officials know that they are not calling a fair game, and that they will not be bullied any longer.
3. They need to push the tempo of the game with each offensive possession and each Houston turnover. This will tire out the Rockets much more than the Blazers, and will allow the Blazers to create many more scoring opportunities for themselves.
4. They need to play much more physical defense. They need to let the Rockets know that they will not get away with cheap offensive tricks, and that they cannot bully the Blazers like a younger sibling. This should include playing Nicholas Batum more minutes, as he is the best perimeter defender on the team and can shut down outside shooters like Von Wafer, Ron Artest, Shane Battier, and Aaron Brooks.
If the Blazers do all of these things, they will not experience another meltdown like they experienced in Game One. They will not lose another home contest. They will not lose the series to the Rockets.
My Prediction: Blazers beat Rockets in games two, three, five, and seven. Blazers win series 4 games to 3, and advance to Western Conference Semifinals versus the Los Angeles Lakers.