Here are a few Mailbag questions while you're waiting for the start of Game 3!
I suspected all year LaMarcus was saving his effort pounding the block, playing harder defense and exerting extra energy in general so he could stay fresh for the playoffs, when it mattered more. Have I been vindicated?
A little. Not entirely.
Aldridge isn't inclined to take it inside as much as he did in his earlier days under Nate McMillan. Part of that comes from the structure of the team, part from style of coaching, and part from Aldridge's skill set and comfort zone. I don't think he was "saving it" all season long as much as pursuing the style of play he, as the team's #1 option, felt was best.
Both Aldridge and Terry Stotts would have to be blind to miss the mismatch opportunity that being guarded by Terrence Jones presented in Game 1, however. Playoffs are all about the mismatches. Since Jones could not stop him in the lane, Aldridge took full advantage. When guarded by Dwight Howard and Omer Asik more in Game 2, Aldridge kept his game outside. That wasn't a fatigue issue or "saving up", it was all about the matchup.
Aldridge has the fortunate ability to okey doke anybody that Houston sends against him in this series. We've seen him inside. We've seen him outside. As we mentioned in the latest Videocast, the next frontier will be seeing him pass out of double teams should they come. With that development his transformation to the Awesome Side will be complete and the Rockets will have to face a fully armed and operational Trail Blazers team....not a pleasant prospect.
Over the course of his career, LaMarcus has steadily grown to resemble a "force of nature." Who in the league has the best chance of containing him? How might they do it?
After two straight 40-point games I know you want to hear it, so I'll say it. NOBODY CONTAINS A FORCE OF NATURE, BABY! You just hide in the basement and hope it passes over you without doing too much damage.
With that out of the way, defenders who will have success against LaMarcus are the same ones who always have. Basically you want to be quick enough to stay in front of him and rise with his shot but big enough not to get shoved around. You need to close with help when he puts the ball on the floor because he never, ever passes after he starts dribbling towards the hoop. Being strong and savvy enough to push him 2-3 feet beyond his comfort zone on the catch also helps.
The Rockets don't have the guys to watch Aldridge, though. Terrence Jones is too slight of frame and can be taken down low. He can't push Aldridge off his position on the block either. Howard and Omer Asik are too big to push into the lane but they can't bother Aldridge's face-up shot because they're too slow, either in general (Asik) or on the jump and the reach (Howard).
The other fatal flaw in Houston's plan is that 2/3 of those bigs are offensively-challenged enough that Aldridge doesn't have to worry too much about defense. And the Blazers don't have to keep Aldridge on Howard for long. Opposing power forwards with speed or enough shooting range to keep Aldridge running will also wear him down more, leading to fewer forays to the rim and more jumpers missed.
How surprised are you that Robinson got called off the bench ahead of Freeland and what thoughts do you have about the choices there?
Is putting dashes after my name in the greeting a thing now? The inversion of my usual sign-off?
Lots of things about this series have surprised, but that ain't one.
I haven't tracked every Freeland vs. Howard moment throughout the regular season but I remember pretty clearly an abbreviated matchup in which Howard ended up wiping Joel off the bottom of his shoe. That's not a shock. Howard trumps almost everything Freeland does. That's not intended as an insult. Freeland just isn't suited physically or by style of play to give Dwight trouble. He's smaller, slower, makes his contributions on the boards. Dwight will dunk on him, run around him, and take away every rebound, making Joel's effect minimal.
The talent/experience/effect gap between Thomas Robinson and Dwight is just as large as the distance between Joel and Dwight. But Robinson is quick, springy, and can move around Howard in a way that Joel can't...not that he's a better player than Freeland but at least he does something Dwight can't duplicate. That makes him more valuable in this matchup even though he might not be more valuable overall as a player.
For help with a single defensive stand against James Harden like we saw at the end of Game 1, you go with Freeland over Robinson every day of the week. But if you want to change the game against Dwight Howard for a few minutes with your bench, you have to take T-Rob.
Rough physical play is expected in playoff games but I was still surprised by the rough play of Howard and Beverley. I wonder how rough can it get and remember that last year Denver was accused of going after Curry's ankles. It would not surprise me that Batum's wrist and hand has been chopped extra hard this season so I wonder if Blazer players would also engage in some legal and semi-legal rough play such as hard picks on Beverly (knee injury) and crowding Howard (ankle injury) whenever he jumps. What do you think?
Ah! The colon replaces the dash. Somehow that makes me read the greeting in the voice of HAL from 2000: A Space Odyssey.
This is the playoffs. You win or go home. (Unless you're Portland. Then you win AND go home.) (See what I did there, Houston?) Anything that doesn't result in a whistle and/or an ejection is (un)fair game. If an opponent is favoring an injury and you have the opportunity to...ummmm....exacerbate that injury, you do it. He's going to do it to you too, all in the name of distraction and taking each other out of the game.
You'll no doubt recall the 2009 first-round matchup between the Blazers (then the most talented young team in the history of the league) and the Rockets (first-round losers in 4 of their previous 5 seasons). Portland came all suited up, ready to play a nice little basketball game. The Rockets proceeded to kick the ever-lovin' flapjacks out of Portland: physically, mentally, emotionally, and every other way. Every time the Blazers got back on their bicycle, ready to race, the Rockets pushed them over and took off laughing.
At least a couple current Blazers remember that series...the starting forwards. A few other players--Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Thomas Robinson--need little encouragement to be physical. Mo Williams and Dorell Wright have been around long enough to know what's up. If the Blazers lose this series, it's going to be because they got beaten, not beaten up.
Unfortunately going after lower extremity injuries is difficult nowadays with the rules against undercutting leapers, not sticking your foot under a descending jump shooter, and keeping your elbows and knees in when setting screens. But there are ways to make life uncomfortable even if you can't target a guy's sore spots. Blazer fans were (shockingly!) complaining about Howard throwing elbows into Lopez's body during Game 1. I would be stunned if Lopez wasn't returning the favor underneath while everybody else is watching shots and rebounds. You've watched Robin play. Does he look like he's going to take blows from an opponent without dishing them out?
We've also noted other Blazers getting physical this season, albeit in a far-too-obvious way. Aldridge, Batum, and Matthews are familiar with the forearm shove. Bring that down a little lower, shade it behind your body, and do it when you're off the ball instead of dribbling it and voila! Instant bruise for the other guy. You know Pat Beverley is trying to do the same in reverse to Lillard, as would Asik be if Aldridge were to take him down low.
This is all part of the game...an evolution you have to pick up if you want to understand and participate in post-season basketball where everything is on the line and only one team advances. In most cases, though, the process calms down after a feeling-out, "prove you can take it" period. It's not going to keep the better team from winning. It's more of a test to see how far you're willing to go to be the better team.
Does Patrick Beverley get away with too much on the court? It seems his antics should be forced to be toned down a little.
Not at all. Whatever he wants to do, let him do it. If the Blazers get distracted by it, that's their problem. There's not enough personality in the league anymore. Even though they were annoying at the time, the league and our memories of it were much better for the Danny Ainges and Bill Laimbeers. Beverley hasn't even gotten close to the outrageous antics of those two. But he is that type of player whom you hate when he's on another team but you love, and defend to the death, when he's on yours.
I was surprised the Blazers went away from posting up Matthews [after it worked at the beginning of Game 1]. I think they should have continued to go to the well on that for longer. I was wondering your thoughts on this?
This will never be their bread and butter. It slows down the offense, keeps the ball out of everybody else's hands (including Aldridge and Lillard), and keeps Matthews off of the all-important three-point line. Plus James Harden will have an easier time defending that play--needing only to stay still and use his size--than Matthews will becoming a high-scorer off of it.
It was great as an opening salvo, an announcement that the Blazers don't fear Harden, totally disrespect his defense, and intend to make him pay for being on the court. But after that message has been sent, it's better as an intermittent change-up rather than Portland's main pitch.
How do you feel about the Dwight Howard eroneous call being singled out by the NBA in a game full of bad calls on both sides?
Trifecta. Nice. Or maybe I'm just too lazy to scroll down to the other e-mails. (For the record, Daniel sent 6 questions so he's shooting .500.)
It's funny how this issue died out immediately after the Blazers won Game 2 and the fan base that was up in arms about the officiating in Game 1 all of a sudden became the fan base chastising Houston for vocal complaints about the officiating. Winning eases most complaints.
But for the record, the league probably should have looked at Game 1 and issued a blanket statement saying any given call may or may not have been correct and it may or may not have impacted the outcome of the game. Singling out the Howard disqualification didn't give an accurate view of the evening. But...
1. It's their practice to issue these statements only about obvious, last-second calls. I'm not sure I've ever heard them make a proclamation about a third-quarter whistle.
2. Howard being arguably the most prominent, or at least longest-tenured, star in the series, it's not surprising they'd make a statement about him.
3. Everybody who is a knowledgeable, hardcore fan knows the score anyway. It's only the first round and Portland-Houston was the last game of 8 that weekend. Nobody watched or followed it who wasn't a knowledgeable, hardcore fan.
And most importantly...
4. Blazers won the game anyway no matter what decrees came out of the league office afterwards.
I'd give Rockets fans the same advice I give Blazers fans in this situation, though they no doubt already know it. The call was probably bad. So were others. Don't want to endure that? Take control of the game and the opponent and don't leave yourselves at the mercy of the refs. Occasionally there's a Sacramento-Lakers Exemption to that rule, but this wasn't one of those occasions.
which team do you think is 'hungriest' or has the stronger will to win entering this series?
will from eugene
You asked this prior to the series. Zapping back to last week I would have said, "Probably the Blazers because they're the underdogs and feel like nobody's credited them all year. The Rockets feel more like a team that's sitting in the catbird seat."
Fast-forwarding to today, Portland having won 2 straight on the road, I'd change the answer to, "Definitely the Blazers. Some of the Houston players look like they're waiting to be handed their just due. Ironically they're getting it, just not in the way they anticipated."
Still think Stotts is Coach Of The Year even though he came in 6th?
Yes. Dumb-donkey voters.
Disclosure: I'd also vote for Katherine Pulaski over Beverley Crusher as best Next Generation doctor. Bite me.
We'll do another Mailbag next week so keep those questions coming to the address below with "Mailbag" in the subject line!