Full Court Press: Links To Get You Ready For Game 6 Of Rockets/Blazers

Bob Levey

A round-up of coverage before Game 6 of a first-round playoff series between the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.

Enjoy this round-up of coverage as you get ready for Game 6 of a first-round playoff series between the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.

The Blazers (West's No. 5) hold a 3-2 series lead over the Rockets (No. 4). Portland is looking to close out its first playoff series victory since 2000.

Stay tuned for tons of coverage throughout the day, including a Media Row Report to cap things off late night.

Check out our Blazersedge coverage of Game 5 and its aftermath if you missed it...

FinalDave's RecapPodium ReportVideocastHonoring Dr. JackGame 6 Preview

Here's my Game 5 write-up for SI.com.

Friday night's referees...

Mike Callahan, Ron Garretson, Bill Kennedy

The Blazers are handing out towels. Check out the design...

Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com analyzes how Portland has succeeded in keeping James Harden off the line and away from the rim...

At the risk of restating the obvious, a good option to get Harden going is utilizing him in pick-and-rolls with Dwight Howard. After experiencing success with the two-man game featuring All-Stars in Portland, Houston went away from it somewhat during Game 5. Synergy tracked just three Harden-Howard pick-and-rolls that generated shot attempts. Because of the respect Portland must pay the threat of Howard rolling to the rim, Harden has been most successful at getting into the paint with Howard as the screener.

Harden also has to be more decisive. While his patient, deliberate style has served him well in his career -- especially in terms of drawing fouls -- it's not working against an opponent that has him scouted well. Harden has been at his best when he has attacked aggressively while staying under control, as on the reverse layup he made with four minutes left in Game 5 as part of a run that secured the victory.

Jason Quick of The Oregonian writes on Wesley Matthews...

"I think Wes could be a lot more appreciated around the league,'' Lillard said. "He plays both ends of the floor hard, every possession. He's really emotional, really team oriented, and he wants to win. He almost wills us to win. And I think that goes really under appreciated around the league.''

Matthews says he doesn't care about the limelight, the podium interviews, the national recognition.

"The only recognition and acclaim I care about is the people I go to work for and go to bat for,'' Matthews said. "All that stuff outside of here -- the ESPN, the TNT, the statisticians, top 100 players, all that - it doesn't matter to me. I'm not playing for an ESPN writer, or an ESPN announcer. I play for everybody in here; that's all I need.''

Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com writes...

The Trail Blazer perimeter defenders have to do a better job of denying penetration. That means, mostly, Damian Lillard and Mo Williams at the point. When penetration comes, it means the bigs have to help, leaving the Houston front court open for dunks and layups. Giving up easy shots at the basket is a sure way to doom yourself in a playoff game.

...

Portland must scheme better looks for LaMarcus Aldridge. Instead of all those pick-and-pops, he's going to need to roll to the basket once in a while. He seldom does it, but getting him moving toward the basket when he receives the ball is a way to get him into the paint for easier shots. Aldridge has not shown he can get quality shots inside just by tossing the ball to him at the low block with his back to the basket. He'll do it against small players, but Howard and Asik have taken that away.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes...

"We're playing with our season on the line," [Chandler] Parsons said. "It's going to be a great environment, a great crowd. It's the sixth time we played these guys in a week pretty much. We're sick of playing them. They're tired of us. It's going to be competitive. There's going to be a lot of energy in here. By now, the scouting report, all the film, that's out the door. You just got to go out there and execute. You know what they're going to run. You know what their players do. You just want to go out there tonight and perform.

"It's the playoffs. We were in an elimination game. We didn't want to go home. We still don't want to go home. We feel like we're a better team and deserve to move on. We have to go out there and prove it."

Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com writes...

Tonight was the first home win for the Rockets in this series after failing in their first two opportunities. Might these shirts be the key to another miracle comeback? One Trail Blazer who asks for anonymity doesn't think so.

"Is Hakeem Olajuwon coming out of that tunnel?" he asked. "Is Clyde Drexler? Robert Horry? I didn't think so. No, we're not concerned."

Aaron Fentress of CSNNW.com writes...

"Whenever you can get a chance to close out a team, you want to," Stotts said. "It would have been great if it had been last night. Tomorrow, it's not a do-or-die game, but certainly I would absolutely love to close out the series tomorrow at home in front of the fans that have been great all year. I just watched a little bit of Game 6 of the 1977 and closing it out. Now we've got Game 6 here. In light of the passing of coach (Jack) Ramsay, I think it would be pretty nice to close it out tomorrow."

A number of ESPN.com experts see Portland prevailing in Game 6...

Tom Haberstroh: These two teams are so evenly matched, it's going to come down to home-court advantage, playing at the Rose Gar -- er, Moda Center. LaMarcus Aldridge was plagued by foul trouble in Game 5, and I don't see the Portland bench giving them zilch again. As much as this series deserves a Game 7, I don't see the Blazers blowing this opportunity.

Michael Wallace: Unlike the Hawks and Grizzlies last night, the Trail Blazers won't squander this opportunity at home. Their balance, depth and health at this stage of the series will be enough to overwhelm Houston. Linsanity, as much of a pleasant surprise as it was in Game 5, won't save the Rockets this time. If there's any truth to the adage that role players perform better in big games at home, all signs point to Portland finally putting this series to rest.

Zach Lowe of Grantland.com writes...

I'm not sure any player has shuttled between "overpaid" and "underpaid" more often in popular conception since the Blazers swiped Wesley Matthews from Utah via the full midlevel exception. But here he is, humiliating a listless James Harden in the post, raining triples, and hounding Harden on the other end. Matthews can slide to bulkier small forwards if need be, helping to unlock Nic Batum's flexibility on defense. Daryl Morey wishes he had a wing like this.

Andrew Sharp of Grantland.com has Damian Lillard at No. 1 on his playoff power rankings...

Nobody's had a better first round than Dame Lillard. It doesn't matter that he doesn't play defense and sometimes takes horrible pull-up jump shots. Watch him for an entire game and you will forget all of that. Whether he's drilling pull-up 3s or blowing past people for floaters at the rim, he has a special knack for just breaking people's hearts.

"I don't really believe in the clutch gene," my roommate was saying Sunday night. "But man. Dame Lillard makes you wonder."

Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune writes on Nicolas Batum...

"Nic has been aggressive," coach Terry Stotts said. "In the last game, his pick-and-rolls were very good. He got to the rim, he created problems in the paint, he made his 3's. He's doing more scoring. LaMarcus was doing it the first two games, but we have a lot of guys who can score. If (the Rockets) try to take one thing away, other guys have to be ready to fill the gap."

That's the way Batum sees it, too.

"It's the playoffs," he shrugged. "Everybody has to step up his game. It's my job, too. I don't want to go home too early. I want to win games.

"The first two games, I kind of stayed back because my job was to get the ball to L.A. and play defense. The last two games, other guys have had to step up. That's what I did."

David Thorpe of ESPN.com has LaMarcus Aldridge as his postseason MVP...

Portland is now in position to close out the Rockets at home thanks to Aldridge's stellar play more than anything else. While Houston has devoted more talent and resources toward slowing him down, namely in the form of Dwight Howard or Omer Asik defending him and helping off him less -- those are two of the game's top defenders, so it's no easy task for Aldridge and a big reason for his 3-for-12 effort in Game 5 -- his play has changed the tone of the series from "How will Portland match up with Howard and Harden?" to "What must Houston do to slow Aldridge?"

For a big man who doesn't always have the ball in his hands, Aldridge is somewhat at the mercy of getting the ball based on what the defense is dictating. But because of the Rockets' attention on slowing him down, his talented teammates should have far more openings. So if Portland explodes offensively in Game 6 and Aldridge is not a big part of the scoring, he will still likely be a big reason for their success.

Joe Freeman of The Oregonian with thoughts from Blazers coach Terry Stotts...

Q: What was your takeaway from Game 5 after watching film?

A: "The takeaway was that I think we can play a lot better and it was still a two-point game with three minutes to go. Rebounding has been and will continue to be very important to the series. We've done a good job in certain areas, like transition and defensive transition and not allowing the easy put-backs. But it's just a tough-fought series. I know Houston didn't think they played well in their losses, and I didn't think we played particularly well last game. But we still were in a position to win a game."

Q: How much did the early foul trouble disrupt LaMarcus Aldridge? Or did Houston just do something to hurt him?

A: "No. We had 98 points with three-and-a-half minutes to go in the game. And our pick-and-rolls were good, we scored in transition. They're doubling L.A. They're looking to double him more than they have before, so that opens up other things that we have to take advantage of. I'm much more concerned about where we are defensively, particularly in the first half. If we score over a 100, which we probably should have, I think we're going to be in the game. If I could have everybody score 20 points, that would be great."

Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune with more from Stotts...

The biggest disparity in team stats in Game 5 was Houston out-rebounding Portland 48-34 and the Rockets stinging Portland with 14 offensive rebounds.

"The defensive rebounding is my No. 1 concern," Stotts said. "The rebounding has been the over-riding factor in the series so far. They've done a very good job of getting offensive rebounds. We certainly have to do a better job of containing them."

Stotts said the Blazers need to be better in every aspect of rebounding in Game 6.

"It's going to be a little bit of everything," Stotts said. "Going after the balls a little bit harder, keeping an eye on (Houston point guard Patrick) Beverley. Guards aren't necessarily used to their man crashing the boards. They (the Rockets) are big, but if we can control penetration a little better, that keeps our defense out of help position, which helps."

Erik Gundersen of The Columbian writes...

As Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts had a press conference, his players were given the day off on the hottest day of the year so far.

"They were tired on the plane," Stotts said of his players who had just lost by the biggest margin seen so far in this evenly matched series with the Houston Rockets. Portland still holds a 3-2 advantage.

Thursday was not a day for the team to go over the film. Stotts, however, did watch film on the team's flight from Houston to prepare for Friday's Game 6 in front of what will surely be a raucous Moda Center crowd.

"I think you have to learn from every game," Stotts said. "But during the course of the series, you kind of get video'd out."

Blazers owner Paul Allen writes on Twitter...

Ok Fans, We need your full throated intensity for Game 6 vs. Houston in @TheModaCenter tonight #RipCity & Go Blazers!

Jason Friedman of Rockets.com writes...

Wednesday's win was nice, but it only puts Houston a third of the way closer to where it needs to be in order to move on and continue its championship pursuit. Two more such efforts will be required of the Rockets, and the remaining roadblocks likely only get higher and more pronounced from here. Portland promises to be rocking Friday night. Adjustments will be made. But this is the essence of playoff basketball. It takes talent to get here, and then a seemingly endless reservoir of resilience, belief and growth to continue moving forward.

The Rockets dipped into that well early and often Wednesday and its life giving waters saved their season. What awaits them demands no less. James Harden must bounce back and build upon the strong finish that helped make up for his sluggish start. Patrick Beverley needs to rest and recover. And above all else the team must maintain its faith and belief in one another, especially when crunch time comes and shines its white-hot spotlight on each club's execution and attention to detail.

"We're confident going back to Portland," Parsons said following Houston's 108-98 win. "We felt like we let (Game 4) slip away there. We're not hanging our heads at all. We believe in each other and in that entire locker room nobody thinks this series is over. We have a chance to do something special here. It's going to be a dogfight Friday night, it's going to be fun and it's going to be an awesome environment. We've got to go out there and execute. By now the scouting report is out the window. You just have to go out there and get it done."

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports that Patrick Beverley is feeling better...

Rockets guard Pat Beverley on Friday showed few signs of the illness that had him hospitalized with fever and forced him to play Game 5 with 101-degree fever. He went through parts of Thursday's practice in Houston and shootaround Friday in Portland.

"I feel much better," Beverley said after the morning shootaround. "I can't want to play right now. Can't wait to play."

Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle writes...

Rockets guard James Harden said that as the team prepares to play in Portland on Friday night in Game 6, they feel in control.

"They have all the pressure on them," Harden said. "For us, it's just about going out there, competing and have fun. We played up there twice, went in overtime both games and both games we were up. It's just a matter of us closing games out. It's going to be a tough, hostile environment, but we're pretty confident."

Zach Harper of CBSSports.com writes...

LaMarcus Aldridge has been incredible in this series and he could very well help the Portland Trail Blazers close out the series Friday night in Portland. It's a match-up like this why the Houston Rockets went out and got Howard this past summer. They needed a star big man to combat the other big men in the West. They needed a guy to step up and play great defense when their backs are against the wall. They needed the Orlando Magic version of Dwight roaming the paint and squaring up against someone like Aldridge.

Howard had two monster blocks at the end of Game 5 when the Rockets extended the series. Out of Terrence Jones, Omer Asik, and Howard, the All-Star big man has defended Aldridge the best and he's stopped him in the post, which is something Asik and Jones have struggled to do. Aldridge can take advantage of it by finding space when Howard has to cover the rest of the floor in help, but Howard was brought in to push the Rockets over the top. We'll see if he can do that one more time Friday night.

Corbin Smith of the Portland Roundball Society writes...

Two days ago, the Slippy Grippers Crew, which is where now called, just had to win one more M80 fight and they could keep the magical creature forever. They weren't able to pull it out, in part because Jeremy tossed the M80s around really well kind of randomly and for some reason LaMarcus was doing a really awful job throwing M80s. But there still have two more chances, including one chance in their M80 combat field, where the M80 combat officials were more likely to call the M80 fight their way.

This has become very stressful for everyone involved. Once, it was just a fun game of firecracker tossing; now the emotions involved have come to resemble those felt in an all out firecracker war.

Hey, hopefully it goes their way.

Michael Tozer of RipCityProject.com writes...

[Wesley] Matthews' biggest asset isn't his defense, it's his insane hustle plays. He isn't afraid of getting a hit, or diving for a loose ball or even competing with the biggest Goliath of them all, Dwight Howard. Game Four in the current Houston vs. Portland series gives the average fan a great indication of how Matthews makes the Blazers better without touching the box score.

Both Lee Jenkins and Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated see James Harden as the biggest disappointment of the playoffs...

Lee Jenkins: James Harden. I'm sure there will be Kevin Durant votes, but Tony Allen has always presented a difficult matchup for him, and Scott Brooks hasn't done much to help. I'll go with Durant's former teammate, James Harden, who went to Houston because he wanted the stage in situations like this. Harden is reprising his forgettable performance in the 2012 Finals with Oklahoma City, shooting just 34.7 percent, 25 percent from three-point range, and failing to exploit a Portland defense that ranks last in the playoffs. Harden is getting shots - 118 total for the series - but many are contested, off isolation plays, and he's not converting. Meanwhile, his assist numbers are also down, and he's presenting little resistance on the other end of the floor.

Chris Mannix: James Harden. Got to go with Harden, who has been staggeringly inefficient. Harden hasn't shot better than 43 percent in any games this series, has cracked 40 percent just once and was a dreadful 5-15 (including 1-7 from three-point range) in the Rockets Game 5 win. Couple that with some uninspired defense and Harden's second playoff series with Houston has been a nightmare. Part of the reason Harden left Oklahoma City was because he wanted to be the face of a franchise. But with the money and fame comes accountability. Harden can still salvage his series by leading the Rockets back these next two games. But if he doesn't, a lot of fingers are, rightfully, going to be pointed at him.

Steve Duin of The Oregonian with a nice piece from Jack Ramsay's funeral in Florida.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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