Time: 5:30 p.m. Pacific TV: Comcast SportsNet
Since we just played the Rockets a couple days ago you're probably passing familiar with their lineup and style. After a serious halftime heart-to-heart when playing the Warriors after their less-than-stunning debut against the Blazers, Houston managed a 108-107 victory in Oakland and come into this game 1-1.
You already know the story on Houston's manpower shortage. No Yao. No McGrady. They do have Aaron Brooks who always gives our point guards trouble with his speed. They have nice defenders at the 2 and 3 with Shane Battier and Trevor Ariza, either of whom can also hit an open three and one of whom (Ariza) has been known to run and drive upon occasion. They field Carl Landry, Luis Scola, and Chuck Hayes at the 4 and 5, all of whom can rebound, all of whom will scrap, and most of whom can hit a jumper if left open. Young Chase Budinger is starting to make a name for himself with hustle and shooting as well. It's an energy squad, a defensive squad, a squad that will try to push you out of position. It's also a squad that has to manufacture points anywhere it can get them. They'd like to run. Otherwise they're going to work for the open look and hope it goes.
The Blazers kept Houston in check in the first game by controlling the boards, keeping the Rockets from getting easy points, and working for the open shot themselves. However just because the rosters and the week are the same doesn't mean this game is going to be the same. This is Houston's home opener. They are exactly the kind of team who will be tough at home as energy and confidence come easier. They're going to want to perform well in their first game there. Though they're not the same team this year that they were last nobody in their locker room is thinking that. They consider themselves a team with a shot and they expect to win. They're a veteran team and they owe the Blazers. Portland is not going to waltz in and out-talent them. They'll have to work and execute otherwise Houston is completely capable of handing the Blazers their lunch tonight. As a matter of fact, before losing to Denver I had this game penciled in as the Blazers' first loss of the season, figuring having won twice they wouldn't be ready for the battle. Hopefully the slip against the Nuggets makes them both hungry and focused.
Pivotal Points of the Game
1. No matter how you slice it the Rockets are still going to face the problem of having to find ways to score. Other than Brooks not one of these guys is a natural scorer. They're all capable, but it's work. You've heard it said that defense wins championships. It's a theory to which I subscribe. But defense tends to win its championships in the playoffs rather than the regular season. Teams that make it deep enough in the playoffs to earn that cliché usually have a potent offense as well. In the regular season a different truism usually holds sway: Offense always has a chance to catch up to defense but defense never has a chance to catch up to offense. That's a long-winded way of saying that the Blazers just need to outscore them. Make them have to catch up. Make them rely on scoring. Work your mismatches and put the ball in the bucket. Unless you're totally inept they'll not be able to keep up with you for four quarters.
3. Keep them away from cheap buckets.
4. Work around the defense of Battier and Ariza. Use Aldridge early and often. Don't be afraid to make Brooks defend. If he's out of control put Rudy in there and make him watch a bigger guy.
5. If you contest their shots--not stop them, not turn them over, just contest shots--they're going to have a really difficult time. If you don't get out to cover the mid-range and longer shots though they can hit them.
This will be a nice test to see whether the Blazers can pull it together in the early part of the season. The game itself isn't pivotal but an opponent like Houston won't let you get away with another discombobulated effort in this situation.
Be sure to check out TheDreamShake for the Houston perspective.