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Game 44 Preview: Blazers at Rockets

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A Look at the Rockets

With some games you can pretty much scan the preview from earlier in the year and know everything you need to know about the opponent.  That makes an easy near cut-and-paste job for me.  Unfortunately that's not true tonight.  When last we saw the Rockets back on December 20th at the Rose Garden they were hobbled, struggling, and looked like they might be in line for a low playoff seed and another disappointing season.  Since then Tracy McGrady has come back, they've re-discovered their defense, and they've won ten of their last fourteen games.  McGrady is playing out of his mind.  He's scored 37 twice and 45 once in their last five games while adding a fair number of rebounds and assists besides.  Point guard Rafer Alston is also on a tear, averaging 20 points and 7 assists in his last five.  The good news is that dominant center Yao Ming is out with leg trouble, so at least our centers won't collect 18 fouls in 6 minutes of total playing time.  The bad news is in his absence Juwon Howard has started racking up 20-point games and Dikembe Mutumbo has started rebounding like he was 26 again.  And who can forget that playing the Rockets means we get a chance to see BlazersEdge favorite Bonzi "Look Ma, I played 17 minutes and scored 6 points before I got all tuckered out" Wells.

The long and short of it is, when we played them last time they were a grind-it-out, center-oriented, possession team.  Now they're a fire it up, guard-oriented, scoring team.  They're going to score 100 these days.  The only question is how much you'll score.  They've held a bunch of teams below 95 and obviously they win those.  Lately they've let a few teams (Sacramento, Dallas, Denver) score an obscene number of points.  Then they lose.

Things I'd like to see:

  1.  The big problem we have is that Houston can win a game in the 80's or the 100's.  That means our little "grind you down" trick isn't going to work tonight.  My guess is to beat them we need to outscore them.  That means playing fast.   That means having Lamarcus outrun their centers, having Sergio outrun their point guard, and figuring if they want to burn us at those two spots on the other end at least that means McGrady isn't shooting.
  2.  Speaking of McGrady, who gets the lucky assignment of checking him?  I know Ime's going to try, but here's where being only 6'5" will prove a disadvantage.  Very good defense hardly counts when the other guy is firing off jumpers as you stare at his belly button from the apex of your jump.  Even if we could stop everybody else McGrady is one of those guys who can win it all on his own.  And we just ain't stopping McGrady.
  3.  Houston is a great rebounding team.  We're going to need all the forwards helping out big time to hang with them.
  4.  Houston is a very good perimeter team.  Zones aren't going to work tonight.  Straight up man-to-man isn't going to work tonight either.  And if we double team they're going to get it to the open guy, and they're not bad shooters.  Houston...we have a problem.
  5.  The Rockets are very impressive defensively.  Short of getting it down there before they set up (as mentioned in Point #1) we're going to have trouble getting it up.  I think the best technique will be to drive everything inside and try to draw fouls.  With Yao out they don't have a ton of shot blocking and Howard and Mutumbo won't be quick to rotate.  But we can't just stand-still post because they're plenty big enough.  And we can't shoot deep because they will rebound every one of those misses.
  6.  I wish we had Travis Outlaw tonight.  Then I'd give us half a chance.
Hope we enjoyed the two-game win streak.  I consulted my Magic 8-Ball on the outcome of tonight's game and it said, "You're Dead, Chuckles".

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)