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Game 76 Preview: Rockets vs. Blazers

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Ahhh...no rest for the weary, as we draw another Thursday night TNT contest versus a playoff contender.  This time it's our arch-nemesis, the Rockets.  But wait!  What's that I hear?  No Yao Ming?  Gone for the season?  Well I'll be.  For the first time all year the Blazers might actually have a chance against Houston.

After their near-infinite winning streak the Rockets have been decidedly mediocre, amassing a 3-5 record.  Granted they've played winning teams but they've also lost to all of those winning teams except for Golden State.  They've had some nice offensive efforts against defense-less teams but they've also put up some real stinkers against teams with good defense.  One wonders which Portland will be, as we can go either way.

The constant for Houston has been Tracy McGrady, who is a major handful for us even when we have an actual 2-guard on the roster.  Luis Scola has also been taking people to school since Yao went down.  He scored 24 two games ago and 20 in his last outing, including 10-10 from the line.  He can rebound a little too.  Shane Battier is always ready to stick a dagger in your side while you're paying too much attention to his teammates.  Then they've got wildcard guard Rafer Alston, who can either kill you or gift-wrap you the win. (Given our point guard defense the former seems more likely.)  And Dikembe Mutombo always seems to find the fountain of youth against us.  At least they don't have Bonzi "I Score 50 Against All My Old Teams" Wells anymore.

Without Yao the game plan seems pretty simple:

--Don't let McGrady overwhelm you.  He'll almost certainly shoot and score a ton but don't let him stun you with dunks and passes.  Make him work for his points.

--If you have any energy left, choke down on Alston too.  Their frontcourt guys can score a little but without the guards Houston is bringing a nerf Frisbee to a gunfight.

--You have got to move the Rockets around on defense.  If you let Mutombo, Scola, and company just plant in there you're going to miss shots and they'll rebound them all.  If you make them mobile they're far less effective.  This means big men being alert and moving their feet, not just posting and sitting.  And would it kill us to get someone over 6' down the court first once in a while?

--With a couple exceptions the Rockets are not good long-ball shooters.  Forcing them outside is a very good idea.

--Hey bench. SCORE SOMETHING!

--Would it kill us to have a little passion?  It's nationally televised, after all.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)