I'm not sure there's much to say about this game except that the Blazers didn't really play poorly, they just got outhustled and outmuscled. The form of the Blazers offense was there but Houston seemed to have a counter on almost every play. When Roy drove he met three Rockets. When the Blazer wings shot from the perimeter it was with a hand in their face. Nobody got fast break points in this game so all of the offense was hard-earned.
On the other end Houston played off of Yao Ming. When Portland played behind him he dominated. When the Blazers started fronting him he couldn't produce but we had to commit a man to staying in front of him full-time, taking away that man's ability to rebound or help. This put pressure on everyone else to also handle their men one-on-one. For the most part it didn't work. Luis Scola, Aaron Brooks, and everybody off of the Houston bench got sparkly lights in their eyes. The last-ditch resort was to gamble with the help defense but that left perimeter shooters open for the Rockets. To Houston's credit they calmly sank their open opportunities and made the most of their halfcourt sets. They equaled us in three-pointers, went +6 at the free throw line (not just because of extra attempts but because we were missing the freebies tonight), and shot 51.4% to our 45.2%. And that's pretty much the ballgame.
As I said, this wasn't a bad game. It was a game we had to win with defense and we couldn't do it. The Blazers should take note of how the Rockets defend screens. They're experienced and they know how to cut off lanes for the pass and the dribble without over-committing. They're also thinking two moves ahead instead of two dribbles ahead. Someday Portland will be there.
--Brandon Roy had another "good but off a little" outing. He went 8-20 for 22 points with 6 assists and 3 rebounds. This is just a hard team for him to match up with. Artest and Battier are both big and both can defend.
--LaMarcus Aldridge was active and remained aggressive but he, too, got banged around. He had all the Houston power forwards on him plus Yao. He had to work hard for everything he got. He ran the court but neither he nor the guards could get free enough to feed him on the run. LMA was 7-15, 8-11 from the foul line for 22 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 assists.
--Joel Przybilla got smacked with 4 fouls in 20 minutes which is not entirely surprising. He had 8 rebounds.
--Steve Blake got harassed into shots tonight and he ended up 3-10. He also had problems defending the Houston guards. 7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists.
--Nicolas Batum accounted for himself pretty well against Artest and the Houston bruisers. He has a knack for hounding the ball no matter who the opponent is. It goes without saying now that he hustles on defense too. Much respect for that. 6 points, 4 rebounds, a steal and a block in 24 minutes.
--Travis Outlaw was the recipient of a few nice passes from the clogged lane and hit his jumpers. He went 7-13 for 15 points but he had no free throw attempts, indicating his perimeter preference tonight. The big difference between his performance and some of his teammates' is that he can hit a shot with a hand in his face. He had 5 rebounds and 3 assists as well.
--Rudy Fernandez still isn't really back into form. He scored 6 and had 2 assists and a steal in 25 minutes. His defense wasn't sharp and he just doesn't seem crisp. Part of that could be the Houston defense though. They're in the business of making wings look bad.
--Greg Oden struggled with Yao Ming when he tried to guard him from behind in the post but had the same success as everyone else fronting him. He really got taken out of his game by the big guy though. He had 4 points and no rebounds in 11 minutes. He also matched Przybilla's 4 fouls.
--Sergio Rodriguez was really the only guy creating space in the paint tonight. He shot confidently, going 2-3 for 4 points and an assist in 10 minutes.
--Channing Frye played 7 minutes, hit a shot, and grabbed a rebound.
This loss wasn't exactly a surprise. With the standings so tight it hurts, of course. This was an important game for Houston and would have been an important win for the Blazers had they achieved it. But the bigger story is that the huge Phoenix loss to Dallas today cemented a playoff spot for the Blazers. We'll have more on that tomorrow. For now it's safe to say the team isn't celebrating much, but it still feels good to have earned that spot.
Check out the general relief at TheDreamShake
You can see the Jersey Contest Playoff scores here.
The following players have exited from the Jersey Contest playoffs in Round 1: Arby, Itheryn, Jsmuc, Marble47, Ruodrola, Madding, the-arkitect, and Nep_Blazers. Everybody else still in the playoffs (and only those people please) can enter Tuesday's form. Remember that despite what the monthly scoreboard says, all scores reset to zero now. The remaining 24 will become 16 based on the scores of the next two games.
Here are the updated Western Conference standings, 2-7:
- 2. Denver 52-26
- 3. San Antonio 49-27
- 4. Houston 49-28
- 5. Portland 48-28
- 6. New Orleans 47-29
- 7. Utah 47-30
- 8. Dallas 46-31