As I noted in Sunday night's Media Row Report following Portland's overtime victory over Golden State, the Blazers were finally willing to address their upcoming playoff opponent, the Houston Rockets.
Portland's victory assured their No. 4 vs. No. 5 match-up with Houston, although homecourt advantage has still yet to be decided. Portland will get homecourt only if the Blazers beat the Clippers and Houston loses to both San Antonio (in Houston on Monday) and New Orleans (in New Orleans on Wednesday). One Rockets victory or a Blazers loss will secure homecourt advantage for Houston.
I asked four different Blazers what they thought would swing their series with the Rockets and I got four different answers. Here's a quick-hit rundown of their first-take impressions of a series that will start next weekend. Included with each are a few relevant numbers.
It's going to be tough. They're a really good team. They have some dynamic players. They have James Harden, Dwight [Howard], we just have to take care of business on our end. See what happens.
[The key to the series will be] definitely trying to take the three-ball out of the game. They're great at driving-and-kicking, shooting threes. [Jeremy] Lin, [James] Harden, all those guys can make threes. We're trying to take one thing away -- because they're really good at getting to the rim and really good at shooting threes. Trying to take one away.
It's the playoffs, everything you did previous doesn't matter. [The focus should be on] going out every game and playing that game.
This season, Houston ranks No. 1 in three-point attempts and Portland ranks No. 3. The Blazers rank No. 8 in three-point percentage while the Rockets rank No. 16. Houston has eight different players attempting at least three three-pointers a game, while Portland has five.
Houston ranks No. 3 in shots attempted from within five feet of the basket, while Portland ranks No. 24. Houston ranks No. 8 in field goal percentage within five feet of the basket, while Portland ranks No. 12.
[The key to the series will be] turnovers. Transition. Turnovers and easy points. Who can win that battle? We both get out in transition, we both shoot threes, we both have someone that we can throw it to inside. We both shoot free throws. Who can do it better? Who can be more disciplined?
Portland ranks No. 4 in turnover percentage (fewest turnovers per 100 plays) while Houston ranks dead last. Portland ranks dead last in turnover percentage defense (fewest turnovers forced per 100 plays) while Houston ranks No. 27.
People will say [the key to the series will be] me against [Chandler] Parsons. I think so. We've got two stars, they've got two stars, so we're the number three option. We can be the key of the series.
Batum, 25, is averaging 13.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 36.3 percent from deep this season. Against the Rockets, he's averaged 10.5 points, 6 rebounds and 5.8 assists while shooting 23.5 percent from deep.
Parsons, 25, is averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 37.2 percent from deep this season. Against the Blazers, he's averaged 17.5 points, 7 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 33.3 percent from deep.
In the playoff environment we'll be pretty good against them.
We've got to stop James Harden. James Harden is one of the biggest keys, being able to slow him down. Dwight [Howard], obviously -- we've struggled against big centers. Trying to get the ball out of his hands.
It's just going to be a dog fight. That's the playoffs. From what I've seen, that's the playoffs. I think we're ready for those types of games.
Harden is averaging 25.5 points, 6.1 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game this season. He's averaging 9.1 free throw attempts per game, ranking third overall in the NBA in free throw attempts. Dwight Howard ranks fourth overall in the NBA in the same category.
Harden has averaged 30.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 45.5 percent from deep and 8.8 free throw attempts against the Blazers. Howard has averaged 25.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and shot 63.3 percent against the Blazers.
In addition to all of those, there's also the hotly-contested mini-rivalry between Damian Lillard and Patrick Beverley to keep an eye on.
With whom do you agree? Any of them? All of them? Offer your own x-factors and pivot points for the series below.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter