Before each of the games after the Game 1 blowout we've discussed adjustments the Blazers could, and probably would, make going into the next game. The time for that is done.
The battle plans of both teams are now fairly well set. The games in which those battle plans have been executed have been hotly contested and fairly close. The Rockets are unlikely to make major adjustments, save perhaps continuing to focus on Yao Ming in the offense. The Blazers have done as well as can be expected defending Houston's stars. They've lacked rebounding, particularly offensive, and haven't drawn enough fouls. They'll likely be depending on the energy and advantage of the home court to tip the balance their way tonight. Other than exploring more of the creative matchup lineups discussed earlier in the series and played sparingly so far (Rudy-Roy backcourt, in particular) I don't see many more tricks the Blazers can pull out of the hat.
This is, however, an elimination game for Portland and that changes the rules a little. The criterion for court time is simple: if you produce, you play. If you don't produce the team can't afford to ride with you long, no matter who you are. (Outside of Roy and Aldridge, of course, who can't be replaced.) This is a little like a Major League manager emptying his bullpen in a deciding game. The normal pitching rotation goes out the window. You start normally, but you pull out all stops--whatever it takes--to get the job done. Expect to see some odd things if this game remains closely contested or if the Blazers lose momentum, particularly in the second half.
A win tonight would obviously keep the Blazers alive in the series. Every chance to play in these games is valuable. Adding another to the schedule would be an additional benefit. A victory would also give the Blazers a little more reason for pride and a little more assurance for next year. As such, this game has plenty riding on it.
It would be quite disappointing to see Portland give up on the game or the series tonight. If Houston comes in soft knowing they have a safety net at home in Game 6 the Blazers should make it their mission to make them pay heavily. A blowout win tonight would be the best, and maybe only, chance at reversing the momentum in this series decisively. If Houston comes out hard, intent on clinching here and now, it will be a great experience for the Blazers to have to claw and fight for their playoff lives against that kind of opposition.
Do be aware that homecourt wins are not assured in these situations. Emotion is sometimes hard to conjure when you're on the wrong side of 3-0 or 3-1. Let's hope we see it from the Blazers tonight.
Win or go on vacation. That's all there is to it.
Check out the build-up at TheDreamShake...hopefully not for the last time.
P.S. If you're able, check out the 8:00 hour of the MSP on 95.5 The Game this morning. I'm going to be in-studio with Gavin and Chad doing a full hour of Blazer talk.