Portland: We know our guys. Przybilla is a rebounding/defense machine that's good enough around the hoop at the offensive end that he can't be completely ignored. You won't ever see the ball intentionally passed in to Przybilla for a post up move though. Oden is also a rebounding machine, but hasn't fully regained his quickness after the microfracture surgery which hurts him defensively. His offense also suffers from his loss of quickness and currently relies heavily on overpowering other players. He has shown a few extra tricks near the end of the season, but his offensive arsenal is still pretty limited.
Houston: Yao Ming isn't a typical center. He very big (7' 6", 310 lbs) and very skilled. In particular, he is an outstanding shooter inside 18 ft. He is a capable and willing passer and makes a very high percentage of his FTs (87% this year) which makes it so you can't just foul him like you might with Shaq or Dwight Howard. His biggest weakness is that he is a liability on the defensive end when defending other centers with at least average skills and quickness. His help defense is solid though. He also is a good rebounder, but doesn't get quite as many boards as you would figure a guy with his size would (14th in rebs/48). Mutumbo, even at 74 years old, is a solid backup for 10-12 minutes a night.
Matchup: Unfortunately for Gregzilla, Yao is just about custom built to outplay them. Yao's shooting touch, height, and post up abilities allow him to score on almost anyone. The best bet is to get in his face and try to frustrate him, but don't get too in his face or you might send him to the line. If the refs call it loose, our guys should be able to hold him down on the offensive end. If they call it tight, he's going to get his points. The ideal situation would be to then return the favor by taking advantage of him on the other end, but Pryz doesn't have the skillset and Yao is one of the few people Greg can't just out muscle to the hoop.
Verdict: Somewhere from small to solid advantage Houston, depending on how it's called
Portland: LaMarcus Aldridge is a man of very few weaknesses. He is a great shooter, a freakish athlete, has solid post up moves, is above average in both one on one and help defense, is a capable passer, and rarely leaves you thinking "what the heck was that?!?!?!" His main weakness is that from time to time he slips in to "finesse mode" and then out hustled by the other guy. I consider Frye the 10th man in our 9 man playoff rotation and expect Outlaw to get the backup minutes (who I'll cover at SF).
Houston: Houston has a three headed "kinda small, but really really scrappy" monster at PF. Their two main guys, Luis Scola and Carl Landry, are also great shooters that tend to put themselves in the right place at the right time. Chuck Hayes is only 6' 6", but makes up for it with physical play and energy.
Matchup: There's no readily apparent reason LMA shouldn't be able to dominate this position, but the Houston trio have a habit of out playing themselves.
Verdict: Advantage Portland, as long as LMA keeps playing like he has for the past several weeks
Portland: Here we have two guys that are almost opposite of each other. We have the quite, focused, and intense Batum with his pesky (i.e. good) perimeter defense and "good enough to burn them if they let him go" offense as our starter. He's not afraid to get his nose in anywhere and tends to come up with a lot of energy and hustle plays. "Backing" him up (with backing in quotes because he plays more minutes), we have the laid back, super-freak athlete Outlaw who can get his shot off against anyone and seems to play the last shot of a tied game the same that he plays a random play in the second quarter (and I mean that in a good way). He is really hot and cold on the defense end (sometimes shutting down the opposing team's best player, sometimes going in to full on matador defense) and, while it's gotten a ton better from the beginning of the season, still has a few more... situational awareness lapses than most of our players.
Houston: Some folks might say one of these two guys should be a SG since they both start and both play starters minutes (in fact they are #1 and #2 on the team), but I say Houston just defies normal convention and plays two SFs. The two guys are the crazy, intense, and intimidating Ron Artest, and the no stats all star, Shane Battier. They are quite possibly the two best perimeter defenders in the league and are, in order, crazy enough and smart enough to do all the little things that help teams win. Both can shoot the 3 (40% and 38%) while Artest is also a solid post up and driving threat. There is nobody on the depth chart behind them, but there doesn't need to be.
Matchup: Purely at the SF position, I think Portland does fairly well here. Both Outlaw and Batum should be able to hold their while defending, while Outlaw should still be able to get his shot off enough for everyone to remember that he's there and Batum doesn't really need to get much offense in to affect the game. The real problem here is that both Battier and Artest (especially Artest) have a good track record shutting down Brandon.
Verdict: Huge advantage Houston, when you consider that one of them will be hounding Brandon all night long
Portland: Brandon Roy. Smooth. Poised. Drives. Shoots. Posts-up. Passes. Rebounds. Defends. Leader. Clutch. He's not perfect, but it's hard to find anything to criticize. His backup aint too shaby either. Rudy has mostly been an outside threat for us, but has shown excellent passing skills and an ability to get to the hoop when he needs to. He's also good for a good scrappy hustle play or three a game.
Houston: With Tracy McGrady down and two SFs starting, the only SGs with any notable playing time are Brent Barry, and a fellow by the name of Von "The Baron" Wafer. Recently Wafer has been getting the bulk of the minutes and seems to be doing a decent job picking up a little of the scoring hole left by T-Mac. He's not as good on the offensive end and is certainly not as good on the defensive end, but he's playing much better than the guy we remember.
Matchup: Most, if not all of the time, Roy will be guarded by one of Houston's SFs. If Wafer/Barry see much time, they will probably be guarding Rudy or Batum.
Verdict: Ginormous advantage Portland (since the defense factor was already considered above)
Portland: For the playoffs, I expect our three headed PG will be trimmed down to a two headed PG (sorry Rex). Blake won't blow anybody's socks off, but is exactly what this team needs at PG. A good passer/playmaker (5 ast/gm) that can make an open 3 (43%) that doesn't make many mistakes (1.6 to/gm). His defense is solid, but quicker guards can get around him. Sergio is a passing wizard (75% of Blake's assists in half the minutes), but is still a little too error prone (100% of Blake's turnovers in half the minutes) and his defense is clearly the worst of any of the nine guys that I put in our playoff rotation. Both of those negatives have been getting better this season, but there's still a good distance to go for him. As for scoring, his outside shooting is merely average (33%) and, while he has the quickness to get to the basket, he isn't a great finisher. Both his and Rudy's paly pick up when they are both on the floor, which is probably the difference that keeps him ahead of Rex on the chart.
Houston: The rockets split time between Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry who are both young borderline NBA-level starters. Both are skilled players, with Brooks having a more polished scoring game and Lowry having a more polished passing game. Neither are still learning one of the most difficult positions in basketball and could use work in the decision making department. Neither is a standout defender, although both at least put in the effort most of the time.
Matchup: Brooks is exactly the kind of quick guard that tend to have career games against Portland. They may also prove to be pesky enough on D to disrupt our guys. While I feel Blake is the best all around PG on the floor, this is another place where matchups just don't fall our way.
Verdict: Small advantage Houston, mainly because I can already see Brooks exploding for an out of nowhere 26 point night on 8-14 shooting and 8-9 from the line (probably during a game in Houston).
I consider Houston the worst possible matchup for Portland. They seem to be custom built to stop our strengths as exploit our weaknesses. I would give us a much better shot agianst any other west playoff team from 2-8 and I change my mind every 30 seconds on whther the Blazers would have a better shot against the Rockets or the Lakers... and I mean that in a bad way.
Even a month ago I would have seen this draw and figured it was already over, but with the Blazer's improved play over the past month (particularly LMA and overall team defense) and home court advantage, I'm feeling more optimistic. My head still says Rockets in 6, but my heart says the Blazers pull it off in 7.