Game 43 Preview: Blazers vs. Rockets

Game 43 Preview:  Rockets at Blazers

A Look at the Rockets

The Rockets cruise into town with a 23-19 record.  They carry all of the assets and liabilities that have become their trademark in recent years.

Assets:

--Yao Ming is one fine piece of work.  22 points, 11 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks qualifies you for elite status among NBA centers, especially when you're one of about three true NBA centers left on the planet.  His size makes him nearly unstoppable for us.  Joel Przybilla looks like a point guard next to him.  Who comes after that?  Channing Frye?  What makes Yao particularly nasty is his ability to draw fouls now rather than committing them.  He's also over 37 minutes a game...significant as stamina is a long-standing bugaboo of his.  No such luck nowadays.

--Tracy McGrady is back playing again.  T-Mac needs no introduction.  He's tall, coordinated, and one of the best all-around scorers this league has ever seen.  Steve Smith coined the phrase "If you step up I'll lay it, if you step back I'll trey it."  That's McGrady's middle name (much to the chagrin of his accountant and the driver's license people).

--The Rockets are one of the best rebounding teams in the league.  They're tied for first in overall rebounding percentage and in rebounding differential.  Nobody but Yao and forward Chuck Hayes are volume boarders but they work together as a team to wipe the glass.

--They love to pack it inside and are quite effective at stopping post moves and most penetration.  They don't let you near the rim without physical contact.

--They have a lot of guys who can go off on you if given the chance.  Names like Bonzi Well, Rafer Alston, and Mike James don't exactly strike terror in your heart but if you concentrate too much on McGrady and Yao any of those guys could drop 20.

--Overall they're a pretty smart team.  They know where to score and how to win if you give them a chance.

Liabilities:

--The injury bug is biting them again.  McGrady has been out and is still playing with chronic problems.

--They still don't mesh together all that well.  They don't seem to make as much use of Yao as they could.  Sometimes even T-Mac disappears.  They tend to isolate and sometimes that means the wrong people shooting.

--They take a ton of three pointers considering the kind of team they field.  Almost a quarter of their shots come from that distance, which is a little silly considering the number (and size) of the scorers you're fielding.

--Their point guards are all talented, yet streaky.  In fact this describes most every non-star on the team outside of Hayes and Battier.  They can drop a ton on you, but they can also brick a ton.

--They don't defend the perimeter well.  The backcourt defenders are almost universally weak.

--When the defensive floodgates open they open wide.  This isn't the strongest team mentally and it doesn't handle adversity well.

What I'd Like To See

  1.  We just have no good solution for Yao.  Remember that feeling back in school when you didn't study for the chemistry exam and you realized as you walked in the classroom that there was absolutely nothing you could do to fake your way through it?  Welcome to us facing the Great Wall.  Given that, we have to make him pay for being out there and that means our big men beating him down the court in transition and hitting jumpers in the halfcourt offense.  This is just really not going to be Joel's night.  We need Lamarcus Aldridge or Channing Frye to float like butterflies and sting like bees.  Otherwise we're going to be a smoldering cigarette on the sidewalk and Yao will be the combat boot.
  2.  We need to hit some perimeter shots to free up the inside for drives from Roy, Jack, and Sergio.  James Jones, Martell Webster, Brandon Roy, and Steve Blake better be able to take advantage of what Houston will give us.
  3.  I don't even know what Houston is going to do to us on the boards.  It could get ugly.  Even if we don't get many offensive boards we desperately need the defensive ones.  Guys like Hayes and Scola could break our backs if we don't take care of business.
  4.  We just said Lamarcus and Channing have to beat their counterparts down the floor...and that's after the rebound is secured, which means quick feet on their part.  But the other half of that is the ball has to get down there too.  This is NOT a night for walking it up the court.  In fact I'd venture to say that if we see four guys sauntering towards our basket this game is over no matter what else we do.  I know we don't get many fast break points, but we do need to push the tempo as we advance.  Run it up and then set it up.
  5.  When all else fails, a free throw advantage can tip the scales.  After we've hit those perimeter shots we talked about in Point 2--which hopefully will happen early in the game--we need to dive inside aggressively.  Few of the Houston players are speedy and they will be prone to foul if you force them to move in order to defend you.  
  6.  By the way passing inside makes a big difference too and is one of the best ways to foil Yao's defense.  He's huge but he can't cover ground quickly if he has to change direction.  This is yet another reason we might not see much of Przybilla in there.  This also depends on us opening the floor by hitting shots though.
  7.  One benefit of a quicker tempo, drawing fouls, and hitting shots is that they all lead to more potential points.  Houston has lost some games where opponents scored in the 90's but they've lost a lot more where opponents scored in the 100's and up.
This is going to be a tougher contest than the similar records indicate.  We do not match up well with this team.  But if we're going to contend for a spot in the playoffs we must win against our primary rivals at home and Houston is one of the 5-6 teams that meets that definition.  It's still too early to call games "critical" at this juncture but for where we are in the season, what we're trying to accomplish, and who we have to fight off to make it happen this is an important game.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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