Play Blazer Basketball
Blazer basketball is sharing the ball and setting screens. It is playing the right way. Playing Blazer basketball moves defenders, creates mismatches, opens the lane and leaves our 3pt specialists open to catch and shoot with their feet under them. Efficient, classic, beautiful basketball -- play beautiful basketball, Blazers!
Staying on Yao: A Required Change
Okay, so one aspect of Blazer basketball is suspended for this series. We need to move from a team defense concept to focusing more on our man. Joel and Greg CANNOT leave Yao unguarded to go for a block. Yao will either receive an entry pass or simply jam the rebound.
This means that our perimeter players must play better man defense and not allow penetration. Or it means we use our forwards to cover penetration. Probably both. If we can't cover their quicks man-to-man, we might switch to a zone occasionally to confuse the Rockets. This is dangerous, as they have decent and willing perimeter shooters. I would only expect this from Nate when Houston's line-up includes Yao, and their primary shooters are either on the bench or have shown difficulty. How can Nate use Batum,Travis and LMA to rotate defensively to stuff the key and not leave their man open? Hmm.
Houston will not let LMA and Roy wreck them in a repeat of Game 2. They will force other Blazers to make shots. So make them. Blake, Batum, Rudy and Travis have been guarded well so far with dedicated man D. Expect that to change tonight. Our shooters must be ready to respond and Roy and Aldridge must be ready to hit the open man, or at least swing the ball to the perimeter. If the shot is not open, we re-enter the ball and hopefully switching has caused lanes to open for our first two options.
Mutumbo Gone Brings More Change
Mutumbo's injury is a huge loss to Houston. They will be forced to play without a big in the middle for extended minutes the rest of the series. Oddly, those minutes are about the average playing time for one Greg Oden. While some argue for playing Greg on Yao to wear Yao down -- and certainly Greg will be needed at times to back up Joel against Yao -- the truth is that Greg is a much more dangerous offensive threat and a better offensive rebounder, which is to some degree wasted with Yao in the game.
Without an opposing shot blocker crowding the paint, the Blazers should find it easier to create driving lanes. Besides layups and dunks, it becomes easier to stop-and-pop in the key or to fingerroll the ball at the front of the rim. Greg will also be there for the put back, or the catch and jam should his man rotate for the cover.
Finally, on the defensive end, it means that our center will not be stuck on the opposing big. We can revert to playing Blazer help defense with our center rotating for shot blocks. Keep your hands up, Greg!
The Boards and Hustle
Blazer basketball is dominating the boards. We need a body on opposing players. Block out for the rebound. On offense, if we succeed in creating driving lanes and mismatches, and get Houston out of their comfort zone, this will open attacking lanes for our rebounders and make it hard for defenders to recover and put a body on us. Basically, besides using our size effectively. we need to scramble more and cause more confusion in the Rockets' rebounding scheme.
One key here is getting Yao out of the key on defense. We must make Yao move on the defensive end to slow him on offense and get him to the bench faster. We will see the high pick and roll more. Using sets to expose their illegal defense may be required early in the game. With Yao out of the middle, Blazer offensive rebounds happen.
And we need to scrap and get loose balls. We are the younger team and the team with the deeper bench. We should win more of the energy plays.
Some Minor Fixes
This is the playoffs. These young guys need to stop any bad habits they learned playing against weak teams where a possession here or there did not matter.
Aldridge needs to set up around 17 feet . Not at twenty feet. He can make the twenty footer. He is almost twice as like to make the 16 footer. Those few feet in make him alot more efficient perimeter player. So when he moves off a screen he sets and or sets up weakside waiting for the entry to feed his jumper, just set up a little closer.
Blake needs to be more careful entering the ball to Roy at the top of the key. Blake often brings up the ball then immediately feeds Roy to start the offense. Houston is waiting on that pass. They have already stole the ball for breakaways. Just something more to watch for, or maybe even to take advantage of.
Rudy needs his feet set to shoot from range. He understands this. He also likes to drive and shoot in the air ala Outlaw. Rudy's least efficient shot has been when in the air moving laterally to the basket. He can hit the shot when moving straight at the rim, but when floating to the side he is inefficient.
Our forwards need to rebound. Especially with Yao in -- given Houston's tenacity really at all times -- the Blazer forwards and guards need to be aware and ready to rebound, especially on the defensive end. Aldridge came ready in Game 2 and had a monster defensive rebounding game. We need to see more defensive rebounding from Travis and Batum.
Sergio needs to D up and play tighter. He cannot waste shot clock looking for the right entry pass against the wall that is Houston's D. Expect Nate to install more off the ball player movement when Sergio is in. Get the ball moving through more hands.
We will also see more of Bayless when Yao is in the game to cover Houston's quicks.Go Jerryd!
As a team, we need to take the open shot with confidence. Houston doesn't give you a lot of open looks. When you have your shot, be ready to hit it.
A Winnable Series
When this series started, I was convinced the Rockets were our worst draw in the West. Not unwinnable, not even necessarily unfavorable. Just the worst. Houston seemed likely to take a game at Portland while our young players got introduced to playoff basketball. That happened, the Blazers responded, and we are now in a series.
[The Leakers are better, but if we want to win the Western Conference, we have to play the lala-landers sometime anyway. Besides, we match up pretty well against them.]
Houston, however, presents serious challenges to a young team. The Rockets are experienced. They know what they want to do and do it very efficiently. They are primed to make this experience count for more than the Blazers' awesome talent level. The Rockets are ready to win ugly by making the games ugly.
The Rockets thrive on isolations. This exposes mismatches and takes away our strength which is team defense. The Rockets are also a great defensive team. They can choose where they want the ball to go in your offense and those choices will change for game to game.
As experienced as the Rockets are, this series is winnable. Roy alone will win games regardless of what they do to stop them. We will learn their weaknesses and exploit them with our overall superior talent on the offensive end. But to win this series, we need everyone to step up. Our players need to learn more about how to best harness their talent, fully commit, and join together on the court in playing beautiful and efficient Blazer basketball.