Admittedly, I'm a Blazers fan, but I'm going to try and fight through my bias here without pulling a Jason Quick.
So, let's look at the two teams...
- The Rockets won the season series, on the strength of their home wins. The Blazers didn't play particularly well in any of the Rockets games.
- They take their defense seriously; the Blazers have only scored 90, 94, and 88 points in regulation in their three games this year. Take the under.
- The Rockets have two all-league defenders with Artest and Battier, both of which can defend three positions. This is going to be a tough series for Brandon Roy, and his success is critical to the Blazers' advancing.
- Yao is a tough cover. Even with 18 fouls to give (it wouldn't surprise me to see a little of Ruffin in this series - sorry, Shav doesn't make the playoff roster) and active defenders pushing him out of the paint, he presents match-up problems.
- The Rockets have more playoff experience. If the Blazers players and coaching staff weren't so poised, this might be enough to make the difference.
- The Blazers six game win streak is the longest in the NBA. They are playing well and together right now. The second longest, ironically, belongs to the Spurs (don't count them out against Dallas, it's an odd-numbered year).
- LaMarcus Aldridge has turned into a beast again down the stretch. I expect big things from him in the post-season.
- Our second unit is better. Maybe a lot better (we'll have to see how the bench unit +/- goes for the series, but it should be significant). Outlaw and Fernandez have been dialed in lately.
- Ron Artest takes bad shots outside the flow of the offense. Those who complain when Travis takes tough shots should take a good look at Artest. He's truly a flow-killer. He tries to carry the team but lacks the offensive skills to do so successfully. He's streaky, but is more often cold than hot. Mark my words, when this series is over Blazers fans will be thanking Artest for his poor shot selection.
- The Rockets are one team with even less experience at the point guard position than the Blazers. They start a second year player and have a third year player coming off the bench. Blake and Sergio are comparatively grizzled veterans. (If you look at the brackets, it's likely, if they advance that far, the Blazers could go all the way through the finals without ever facing a dominant point guard - which would be a really good thing.)
- The Blazers are more energetic and athletic team than the Rockets. It's a long season, eighty-two games have already been played. Having a deep bench and young legs is going to be big.
- The Blazers are easily playing their best defense of the year. The Rockets are not a great scoring team anyway, so this could be a very ugly series, offensively.
It's clearly going to be a series that's all about defense, and whose is more effective at keeping the other team from executing their offense successfully. The Blazer's opponents have averaged 94.1 points this year, the Rockets have averaged 94.4 - that's fourth and sixth in the league, and defense reigns supreme in the playoffs because it's not fickle, like a jump shot. Both are great home teams, and they had identical almost .500 road records. Neither has any major injury issues right now. This looks like a seven game series on paper, but the Rockets have been playing .500 ball down the stretch, and the Blazers are playing their best basketball of the year. Any way you slice it, this is going to be fun, but my take is Portland is going to win it.