Game Time: 5:30 p.m. TV: Comcast
At this point in the evolution of the Houston Rockets there's good news and bad news. Bad news: they're dead last in the Southwest Conference. Good news: the conference is ultra-competitive and "dead last" actually entails a winning 24-21 record. Bad news: they have to face the Trail Blazers who have pasted them twice this season. Good news: both of those Portland wins came in the Rose Garden and this game is in Houston's home territory where the Blazers are allergic to winning. Bad news: they still don't have Yao Ming back and Tracy McGrady is persona non grata, meaning they're not nearly the team that went to the playoffs a year ago. Good news: the Blazers are in even worse shape, missing Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw, and every center on the roster. Bad news: outside of two forwards (Carl Landry and Luis Scola) and point guard Aaron Brooks Houston doesn't have anybody who can score consistently. Good news: the Blazers are in the business of making non-consistent scorers consistent and are vulnerable at exactly the positions those decent Houston scorers occupy. Bad news: this game may get boring and frustrating for Houston fans because both teams tend to play scrappy and ugly. Good news: it's overwhelmingly likely that the Rockets will walk away with a win.
No matter how mixed the news is for the Rockets the news for the Blazers is worse. They've just come off of a pair of defeats at home, the last in semi-embarrassing fashion. No matter how hot the Jazz are Houston on the road is at least as big of a challenge to this team as Utah is at home. Portland has to settle for saving graces such as "at least Shane Battier won't be so devastating without Brandon Roy to guard". Mixed blessing, that. Brooks? Bad news. Scola and Landry? Bad news. Ariza? Meh. But could be bad news if one of our players gets hot. The Rockets have a good defensive hand and they're going to employ it in Whack-a-Mole fashion against any Blazer who pokes his head above ground.
That's not to say the Rockets are without exploitable flaws. They have a whole bunch of guys who can't shoot. They have marksmanship designs like Leon the Professional but the range-finding ability of Mr. Magoo. Their shot-blocking is abysmal. Their defensive rebounding is so-so. They trade off of rebounding their own misses and running out when they can. Sometimes neither happens. But the Blazers aren't designed to hit many of those gaps. Right now Portland isn't keeping opponents from high percentage shots. In order to run a reasonable facsimile of interior defense the Blazers have to sacrifice the perimeter. The Blazers don't drive much and thus don't take advantage of the poor shot-blocking. About the only advantage Portland might be able to claim is shutting down Houston's offensive boards and claiming some O-Rebs of their own. But that's a thin thread on which to hang a road victory against an energetic team.
Keys to the Game
- 1. As usual the boards will tell the tale. Portland's energy and commitment, or lack thereof, will be displayed retrieving caroms. If they haven't got it, they can't win.
- 2. The Blazers need to run against this team. Not hustle up the court...flat-out run. If they let the Rockets' defense get set they're in major trouble. You have to get there before they do.
- 3. This is another game where some streaky threes, or at least perimeter attempts, would do a world of good. Let the rain fall tonight, please?
- 4. Don't get down early like you have for the last umpteen million games. It'll be hard to come back against the Rockets' defense.
- 5. Make anyone beat you but Brooks.
- 6. Batum? Aldridge? Scoring?
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