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Game 6 Preview: Blazers vs. Rockets

I love this.  This is playoff basketball.

You may recall that at the beginning of this series the previews spanned thirteen pages, including this nine-page monster detailing what the Blazers needed to do in order to be successful.  The early games also necessitated extensive lists of thoughts and adjustments in previews.  The length has dwindled game by game until now here we are at Game 6.  These teams have taken shots from each other on the chin.  They've both been ahead in games.  They've both come back to win.  They've both faltered and lost.  We've seen incredible defense, incredible offense, rebounding dominance, turnovers, streaks...everything you could hope for from the playoffs.

Now the adjustments are all but done.  Houston may have a couple left but the Blazers are pretty much set.  These teams know each other.  These teams know what they have to do in order to win.  It's just a matter of which team is going to do it.

The game is no longer about tricks, surprises, and schemes.  It's about heart, will, determination, execution.  Both teams have winning game plans.  Which one will pursue theirs better and force the opponent to falter?

The Blazers' approach remains basically the same.  Rotate the centers in and out to keep them fresh.  Keep Yao out of the lane as much as possible.  Give help on the Houston stars when they're in scoring position then recover as fast as you can.  Most importantly, rebound their misses.  The boards are the key to control.

On the offensive end you keep multiple scorers on the floor at the same time.  You use liberal doses of Fernandez and Outlaw along with your starters.  You do not settle for jumpers without penetration first.  You realize that getting extra points on the foul line and getting the Rockets in foul trouble are at least as valuable as hitting an outside shot.  You push the tempo and try to create early offense.  If that doesn't work you keep the ball moving.  The Blazers did not play a lot of one-on-one isolation ball in Game 5 and it showed not only in point production but whistles.  That needs to continue tonight.  Soften them up with team ball and then let Brandon operate while they're distracted.

One thing needs to happen for the Blazers to have a chance in this game that hasn't always happened in this series even when the games have been close.  The supporting players outside of Roy and Aldridge have to hit the shots they're capable of hitting.  That in no way counters the assertion that the ball has to keep moving.  You can't just dump the rock to Blake or Rudy and say, "Create something for us!"  But if the Rockets are going to make any adjustment it'll be to play Roy and Aldridge even harder, figuring as the Blazers do that they'll make somebody else beat them.  We've already seen considerable pressure against each.  It wouldn't surprise me if the Rockets went to extremes tonight if they can't escape Portland the normal way.  The other Blazers have to connect off of passes from the stars.  They don't have to be perfect.  They just have to make the Rockets pay.  That's the only way our main scorers are going to get free enough to make a difference.  Unless Roy and Aldridge can make a difference, we're done.

LaMarcus had a fantastic offensive game on Tuesday.  Him continuing that streak might be the single biggest factor in Portland pulling out a win.  But again you have to get everybody going and use LaMarcus in the flow of that offense.  You can't just dump it in to him and say, "Carry us against the teeth of the defense."

When you think offense tonight think extra points:  free throws, threes, and second-chance points.  We need some of each.  The Blazers made a living from the arc and on the offensive boards in the regular season.  Their return would be most welcome.

You know the officiating isn't going to look exactly the same as it did in Game 5.  Seriously, folks...complaining about this is going to be the same as the diehard Trekkies going to that new movie and complaining that it isn't as good as the original because Shatner isn't playing Kirk.  You knew that already.  If that's why you went you wasted ten bucks.  That's on you, not them. 

As far as the team goes, if you let the whistles take you out of your game you're done before you start.  You control the officials, not the other way around.  Repeat:  You control the officials, not the other way around.  If Joel goes down, Greg better step up.  If Greg goes down then Channing better have the best game of his career.  When you're sitting in that locker room pre-game you look around the room at eleven other guys, put your hands in the circle, and pledge to each other that officiating is not going to make you break stride tonight.  No matter who it takes, no matter what it takes, you overcome it. 

Summary:  The Blazers have done exactly the job they set out to do defensively in this series.  The problem is they have not been able to rebound and they have not scored enough.  They must address both areas in order to win.  They must be mentally and physically tough.  They must play with emotion without letting it run away with them or spray in inappropriate directions.

You are going to see everything the Rockets have to give tonight.  Keeping the game as close as the last two games in Houston would be a major success.  The Blazers want to give themselves a chance to win it coming down the stretch.

A victory tonight is unlikely given how the series has gone.  Houston has executed more consistently in pretty much every aspect of the game.  It's hard to imagine them letting that go now that the series is within their grasp at home.  But they're not likely to get much better than we've seen.  If Portland comes out hard they can give the Rockets a run for sure.  There's always hope and you never quit until that final horn has sounded.  Anything you have to do, do.  Believe you can win.  Believe you WILL win.  Then go out and play like it.

Check out the Houston ramp-up at TheDreamShake.

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Go Blazers!

--Dave (