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Game 5 Preview: Rockets vs. Blazers

OK, so far we’ve been out of the frying pan, into the fire, and rolled around in hot coals for a while.  Now, my friends, it’s time to drink some gasoline.


The Houston Rockets are coming to town.


A Look at the Rockets


The Rockets trade on two things:


1.  They play a physical, suffocating brand of defense aided and abetted by their size and good rebounding ability.  They are forever hanging out near the top of the league in field goal percentage allowed and points allowed.  They’re harder to score with than a nun on anti-depressants. 


2.  They overwhelm you with their offensive options.  This is not to say they’re a fluid offensive team.  Rather they depend on you not being able to stop Yao Ming…or Tracy McGrady…and now Ron Artest.  Odds are you’re going to have trouble with one of them.  At that point your defense will get so busted up trying to compensate that you’ll have trouble with all of them.


It’s a simple formula but darn effective against anyone who doesn’t have their act together.


The difference between this year’s Rockets and past editions who were good, but not good enough, is the strengthening of their bench.  Heretofore the space around the Houston superstars has been occupied by a collection of malcontents and nincompoops.  They fixed that by concentrating all of their nincompoopiness into Ron Artest (who at least defends superbly and can score 20) and populating the rest of the team with good role players.  Chief among them will the guy whom Artest sends to the bench, Shane Battier.  Fortunately for the Blazers Battier is still rehabilitating a foot injury and will not play tonight.  Nevertheless the rest of the team is trouble.  They have two tough, rebounding power forwards who pose enough of an offensive threat to be credible.  That would be Luis Scola and Carl Landry.  They have two firecrackers at point guard in Rafer Alston and Aaron Brooks.  Neither is guaranteed to have a good game but either can go off at a moment’s notice.  Brent Barry, Luther Head, and Chuck Hayes aren’t the worst insurance policies either.  This team is stacked with talent.


Unsurprisingly (given the name) power the Rockets draw a ton of fouls and they shoot very well from the stripe.


Somewhat surprisingly they have always had a difficult time shooting a high percentage and this year has started no differently.  They are firing at a 40% clip from the field, 33% from the three-point arc.  If they didn’t have those extra free throws and hold opponents to under 43% from the field and under 16% so far from the three-point line they could be in trouble.  Their +7.2 point differential testifies that, at least thus far, they’re not.


Keys to the Game


1.  If you can run on the Rockets they might not get back.  It’ll also amp up the score, which is to their disadvantage.  This is as far from the Blazers’ strong suit as you can get, but you’ve got to try something.  Grind it out against them and you’re dead.


2.  In order to run you have to rebound.  I don’t hope to outpace the Rockets on the boards but we can’t get slaughtered.


3.  How do you deal with Yao Ming?  He’s completely unstoppable for the Blazers.  Joel Przybilla can’t handle him alone.  In the games we’ve limited his effectiveness we’ve had to commit such help that McGrady and the supporting cast have excelled.  My previous suggestion has been to try Lamarcus on him, hoping quickness makes up for size.  But that’s a rough night for Aldridge, especially if you expect him to carry the offensive load as well.


4.  How do you deal with Ron Artest?  He was a one-man wrecking crew against the Blazers last year.  This is a similar situation to Yao.  We don’t have anyone who can handle Artest.  The main task will be to keep him out of the lane.


5.  This feels like a game that requires a lot of zone defense.  That’s bad for rebounding but it may be the only way to contain three stars, all of whom can crisp your bacon.  At least maybe you can get them shooting over the top.


6.  We have got to pour the offense on any way we know how.  If it’s three-pointers we can’t be choosy.  If you have an open shot you have to take it and make it.  You won’t get another that possession.  The Blazers’ second unit has to come up huge in this regard.


Storylines to Follow


1.  Batum vs. Artest


This could be Nic’s coming out party or it could be a slaughter.  This will be the most interesting storyline of the night.


2.  Something’s Got to Give


The Rockets have shot 33% from the three-point line so far and have given up 16% (an early-season stat for sure, but still).  The Blazers have shot 40% and given up 51% (pray that this is also an early-season stat).  We need extra points.  We also need them to shoot from distance.  How important will the arc become?


3.  Foul Play


One of the easiest ways to get destroyed will be early foul trouble.  Not only does that limit our options (Frye against Yao, anyone?) it gives the Rockets free points.  Whistles could be a major factor.


4.  Does Size Matter?


If you can’t counter big with big, is there a possibility of going crazy small?  Conventional isn’t “in” in this game.  Start getting out your weird lineup sheets.


Final Thought


Same one as last night:  We’re either primed for an excellent showing or a complete breakdown.  Cheer hard and keep the emotion high.


--Dave (