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Game 56 Preview: Blazers vs. Rockets

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A Look at the Rockets 

Who can forget the first meeting between the Blazers and Rockets back on November 6th?  Last-second shot!  We win!  Oh no, hoop and harm for Yao!  We lose!  Only time for a quick, desperation hit.  I hope they get it to...OHHHHHHHHHHHHH! OHHHHHHHH! OHHHHHHHHHHHH!  OH NO YOU DIDN'T!!!  OHHHHHHHHHH!!!

Now we get to play them again.

The biggest news surrounding the Rockets right now is the loss of Tracy McGrady for the season.  This is become a rite of spring as dependable as the swallows returning to Capistrano or the raindrops returning to the Rose City.  Being used to it, the Rockets aren't really suffering.  They've won four straight and seven of their last nine.  Yao Ming, Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks, and Luis Scola have all stepped up.  Scola in particular has been a rebounding monster the last couple games.  On Sunday the Blazers played a Clippers team that didn't have a frontcourt player to their name.  Tuesday they face a team that will run frontcourt players at you all night long and just beat you down.  Yao is a Blazer nemesis...not just for his own production but because we have to devote so much energy to him that everybody else runs free.  Artest bulls through any Blazer who gets in his way.  The Rockets have excellent three-point shooters to take advantage when you break down.  Plus they play excellent defense.  They're top five in field goal percentage allowed, three-point percentage allowed, and free throws allowed.  They're also as good of a defensive rebounding team as the Blazers are, if not better.  That's a potent formula.

The Rockets' most serious weakness is their imbalanced offense which leads to a generally poor field goal percentage and often to stunted scoring.  Basically their big men never miss but with all of those guys clogging up the middle the guards are forced into lower percentage shots.  Sometimes the team gets backcourt-happy and forgets which side the bread is buttered on.  At that point the Rockets are beatable.  Yao Ming checking out mentally has essentially the same effect.

Unfortunately the Rockets probably feel they owe us one and will come loaded for bear tonight.  Maybe they'll look past us to Thursday's game against Cleveland though...

Keys to the Game

1.  Call me silly but I think one of the basic keys might be trying to run against the Rockets like we ran against the Clippers and Hawks.  I know we're talking about entirely different teams here but a defense that can't set is less effective.  We're younger and quicker.  They're older and bigger.  Running would partially neutralize their advantage.

2.  The Blazers have a real problem in the halfcourt offense in this game.  Normally you'd encourage them to penetrate but those Houston guys are going to wipe drivers off the face of the earth unless they're moved out of position some.  It's like penetrating against a brick wall.  On the other hand settling for jumpers is a sure recipe for disaster against that rebounding.  The best way I can see out of the conundrum is to take jumpers but make them threes.  You have to spread the court against this team and Portland has players capable of doing so.  Work for a few open threes, knock them down, force Houston to recover outside, then the middle will be more open for Roy and Aldridge.

3.  Speaking of, Lamarcus need to hit his mid-range jumper tonight to set up not only his offense, but everyone else's.  Get those Houston power forwards away from the basket!

4.  The best way to deal with Yao is to move him around.  Joel won't be able to do that on his own but if we do get the court spread and penetration going then he might be forced to help.  If he's forced to help he might collect fouls.  If he's on the bench Portland has a much better chance.

5.  The Blazers have a tough double-bill of defending Yao Ming and Ron Artest tonight, both of whom are big for their positions and dwarf any defender we throw against them.  We might have to see some bigger players than Batum on Artest.  This might be the night for Travis Outlaw.  We might need some smaller players to make Yao play defense.  Lamarcus and Channing come to mind.  Either way, prepare to see some unusual lineups out there for the Blazers.  Sustaining energy and cohesiveness no matter what players Coach puts out there will be important.

Final Thoughts

We have a little cushion on this trip so a loss tonight wouldn't be a disaster.  A win would be phenomenal though.

Check out the Rockets' perspective at TheDreamShake. 

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here. 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)