Enjoy this round-up of coverage as you get ready for Game 3 of a first-round playoff series between the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers (West's No. 5) hold a 2-0 series lead over the Rockets (No. 4) after a pair of wins in Houston.
Portland is now set to host its first home playoff game since 2011 in what should be an electric atmosphere. Stay tuned for tons of coverage throughout the day, including a Media Row Report to cap things off late night.
Check out our Blazersedge coverage of Game 2 and its aftermath if you missed it...
Here's my Game 2 write-up for SI.com.
Friday night's referees...
Joe Crawford, Sean Corbin, Bill Spooner
Here are your Game 3 thundersticks...
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports...
Rockets coach Kevin McHale was not about to show his hand, but facing an 0-2 hole in the Rockets' first-round series against the Trail Blazers, he indicated that a lineup change could be an option to at least consider.
The Rockets started Omer Asik in the frontcourt with Dwight Howard in their win in Portland during the regular season. Though LaMarcus Aldridge has averaged 44.5 points per game in the series, the Rockets had their best success making him take difficult shots with Asik against him.
"We'll have some change-ups."
Zach Lowe and Tom Haberstroh discuss the series in depth on a Grantland.com podcast.
David Thorpe of ESPN.com (Insider) sees LaMarcus Aldridge as the postseason MVP so far.
When you're putting up numbers that men like Michael Jordan and Shaq have put up, you're in rare air indeed. Aldridge's first two games will go down as arguably the best performances to start a series on the road in modern NBA history.
Everyone is raving about his midrange game, and it certainly has been a key weapon against two of the game's top defenders in Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, but the key to Aldridge's astounding success in this series has been his effort. He is racing rim to rim and battling inside for important space and the ball. He is attacking the paint in a timely way, too, picking his spots to back his defender into the paint or roll aggressively to the rim off a ball screen. He is an ever-present threat to score from 15 feet and in, not just from 15 feet and out.
Knowing that the Rockets are hyper-aware of his shot-making right now, he is cleverly using fakes to create space for his shot or to draw fouls. The end result is this: Not only are the Blazers in prime position to win this series, but Aldridge can elevate his "status" to a potential MVP candidate next season if they do. That's how impressive he has been in the first week of the playoffs.
Dave Zangaro for Yahoo.com writes...
So how can they stop [Aldridge]?
"Give him some bad food," Dwight Howard joked (we think) after Rockets practice on Thursday afternoon.
And that might be just about the only thing that works. The Rockets' defense certainly isn't. In Game 1, Aldridge dominated in the paint. So in Game 2, the Rockets forced him outside. Aldridge settled for drilling contested mid-range jumpers on his way to his second 40-plus-point performance in as many games.
"Hopefully he gets off Krypton and comes back to earth in the next couple of days," Howard said. "But he's having a helluva series. That shot, that mid-range shot, is something he's been doing since I played against him in high school. It hasn't changed. Give him space, he's going to knock down that shot."
Bill Simmons of Grantland.com writes...
And now, it took only two playoff stink bombs for Harden to replace Russell Westbrook as the NBA's most polarizing star. Really, he's just another 90/10 star, as described in this 2012 Finals column - we appreciate Harden's 90 percent (the good stuff) and tolerate the 10 percent (the annoying stuff), but occasionally, the 10 percent completely overpowers the 90 percent. That's what happened in Game 1 and Game 2. Doesn't make him a playoff choker. At least not yet. Harden's history says he'll go off in Game 3. That's what streaky scorers do.
Mike Tokito of The Oregonian writes...
But when his media session in the Rockets opulent locker room ended, Harden went back at the reporter, asking if he had ever seen a player not play well before. The reporter answered that the struggle seemed unusual for Harden and was coming on a major stage, the playoffs.
The two went back and forth for a while, with Harden asking the reporter if he'd ever seen a basketball game before, then demanding to know whom the reporter was. The exchange got testy enough that team officials stepped in to usher Harden out.
As he left the room, Harden called the reporter "weirdo."
Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com writes...
[Rockets coach Kevin] McHale was outcoached just about every step of the way, just as he was in Game 1. Adjustments? Not many. Defense? Not good. Offense? Well, disorganized, stalled and without inspiration. But part of McHale's problem, quite frankly, has been Aldridge. He's played so well, he'd make a lot of coaches look dumb.
The Rockets just never got anything consistent going on offense other than Dwight Howard in the post. And for the most part, just early in the game. But Portland never surrendered that matchup, preferring for the most part to not double-team. Eventually, Howard started missing and took himself out of the game with foul trouble and the threat of missed free throws.
Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com writes...
He's not short of any confidence when it comes to his small forward matchup with Nicolas Batum, who is a more established player. Batum may have the experience, but according to [Chandler] Parsons, he's the best small forward in this series.
"100 percent, I'm the best," Parsons told CSNNW.com without hesitation.
Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com writes...
Aldridge, prior to his 46-point, 18-rebound performance in Game 1, decided to try something different. Usually the first game of a playoff series isn't the preferred time to switch up routines, but for whatever reason, Aldridge made one minor change: he drank a carton of coconut water, an elixir that has recently grown in popularity, particularly in Portland, in the last couple of years.
And after Game 1′s overtime victory, Aldridge guzzled down another carton of coconut water in one series of uninterrupted gulps.
Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune writes...
A lot of folks appreciated LaMarcus Aldridge's virtuoso performance Wednesday night at the Toyota Center, but perhaps nobody more so than his oldest son, Jaylen.
Jaylen had a couple of pretty big items to celebrate: His fifth birthday and the Trail Blazers' resounding 112-105 victory over Houston for a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven NBA first-round playoff series.
"He texted me and said I looked like Spiderman when I dunked the one ball (in the fourth quarter)," Aldridge said.
No higher praise from a 5-year-old than that.
The Associated Press reports...
Harden was the league's top shooting guard in the regular season, but he's 14 of 47 from the field in the playoffs for his worst two-game stretch of the season.
Part of that is due to Portland's Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum taking turns at shutting him down.
''We've done a good job guarding without fouling and one thing about playoff basketball is that everybody has the every possession mentality,'' Stotts said. ''We didn't fall asleep on him and I don't think he got a lot of easy looks and every great player in this league, you just want to make them work and I think Nick and Wes in particular really have made him work.''
Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com writes...
[Rockets coach Kevin] McHale now encounters the toughest test of his Rockets' tenure, three years into a four-year contract. As a FiveThirtyEight study found early this week, raw wins and losses don't predict a coach's fate; it's wins and losses compared to expectations. Vegas put the Rockets' over/under line at 54.5 wins this season and they won 54, so expectations were met over the 82-game slate.
But a knockout by the Blazers would certainly fall well short of expectations. Entering the playoffs, Vegas listed the Rockets as having the sixth-best odds of winning the title, way ahead of the Blazers. ESPN Forecast pegged the Rockets to win the series in seven games. Just two of the 18 experts on the ESPN panel had the Blazers coming out on top, and neither had them winning in fewer than six games. Four, including yours truly, picked the Rockets in five.
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes...
Five things we learned in the Game 2 loss
1. The Rockets are in a world of trouble. Only three teams have ever come back after losing the first two games of a seven-game series at home - the 1968-69 Lakers, the 1993-94 Rockets and the 2004-05 Mavericks (against the Rockets). Since the Rockets' championship seasons (1993-94 and 1994-95) every time they lost Game 1, they also lost Game 2. In each of the previous six of those instances, they also lost the series.
4. The Rockets are completely healthy, but short-handed, anyway. Kevin McHale played just eight players, including Francisco Garcia's four minutes. It is not unusual for coaches to shorten their rotation, but when Rockets starters struggled, there was no lift coming from the bench. Rockets reserves combined for 13 points with Jeremy Lin, the Rockets' top scorer off the bench in the regular-season, making just 1 of 5 shots.
Jason Quick of The Oregonian writes...
Now, on this team, he said he feels embraced. There is no jealousy. No agendas. Just a team pulling for one another.
"This team believes in me to every extent,'' Aldridge said. "From the first guy to the last guy, they support me 100 percent. When I'm going good, there's not one guy who won't give me the ball.''
Has he not felt that before during his eight years in Portland?
"No. I haven't. I haven't felt it like this before. Never,'' Aldridge said. "This is the first time I felt where 1 through 15 on the roster is happy for me. And this is the first time where 1 through 15 knows when I'm going, they want to ride that wave. ‘'
Royce Young of CBSSports.com writes...
Key Adjustment: Two adjustments the Rockets have to focus on: 1) Going to Asik on Aldridge early could be effective because his length makes it difficult to shoot those turnaround jumpers over. Plus, that size inside makes the Rockets stout on the offensive glass. And 2) possibly considering double-teams on every catch. That can be a problem because Aldridge is a good passer and the Blazers have shooters, but the mindset tonight has to be making someone else beat them.
The Big Story: Where has James Harden been? Through the first two games, he's 14 of 47 from the floor with nine turnovers. There's been a lot of focus and pressure on Dwight Howard, but he carried the Rockets in Game 2. Harden wanted this pressure and wanted this spotlight. If he keeps dropping duds, he's going to start grabbing the attention of everyone and the questions and hot take sports columns will start rolling in.
Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com writes...
In the hallway, adjacent to their locker room, Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, GM Neil Olshey, Assistant GM Bill Branch and the entire coaching staff waited for every player to make their way back from the court. Each one was greeted with a round of applauds and words of encouragement.
"It was surprising to see," Damian Lillard said after flirting with a triple-double of 18 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists. "That was pretty cool. It shows that they're supporting us and appreciate what we're doing."
Sean Meagher of OregonLive.com writes...
"It's desperation time right now," forward Chandler Parsons said after Rockets practice Thursday. "We do not want to go down 0-3."
"We haven't really played well yet," coach Kevin McHale said. "We got to go win Game 3. It's going to be a tough environment, it's going to be a tough game, but those are the games you got to enjoy playing."
"We're not getting the shots we want. We're not really attacking," said McHale, who wants his team to play "downhill."
Mike Richman of OregonLive.com with some quotes from the TNT panel...
Kenny Smith on Houston's options to slow down Aldridge: "What the Rockets have to do is make a decision and say 'Yes, ok, he has beaten us both times so now Damian Lillard you're going to have to try to get 30 because we're going to double him. We're going to have to double him. We're going to double him, we're going to see if Batum can hit threes.' But if you allow him to consistently shoot over chairs, as Charles likes to say, it's going to be a difficult night."
Charles Barkley on guarding Aldridge: "Terrence Jones is a chair, he's just too little to guard him. Asik is a little too slow. I think Dwight's got to get him. There's a problem with them doubling him. No. 1 he really doesn't post up on the box, he posts up on the floor so the defense has so far to go. First of all, Portland is a very good three point shooting team. But he posts out so far out on the floor it's going to be very difficult for their defense to get back."
Slow-motion highlight video of LaMarcus Aldridge's best from the 2013-14 season...
Seerat Sohi of Sports On Earth with a look at Aldridge...
What Aldridge is doing is the true hallmark of stardom: Forcing the opponent to twist and contort its game plan in accordance with Aldridge's skillset and then rendering their adjustments futile.
Hot as Aldridge is, though, there's always a bit of a schematic blind spot behind every crazy playoff run. In 82 games, Houston shot only 5.7 percent of their shots from the midrange zone. Think about how much space the midrange occupies in the halfcourt and reflect on that figure for a second. Houston pushes the idea of not caring about an area on the court to its upper limits. On the other end, they allowed the seventh-highest midrange attempts in the league. It's the shot that every modern defense -- especially the Rockets' -- is designed to offer. Portland follows Aldridge's suit: 20.5 percent of their points -- fourth in the league -- came from the midrange area this season. That figure has stayed the same against Houston.
Erik Gundersen of The Columbian writes...
Aldridge's has been nothing short of legendary, but something of importance that's been equally as valuable to the Blazers' first two wins has been the play of the defense.
"To win in the playoffs, you've got to have both. You've got to have defense, you've got to have offense," said Blazers coach Terry Stotts on an off-day before the Blazers host the Rockets for Game 3 on Friday at the Moda Center. "We've been fortunate to have them both these first two games."
An SI.com roundtable discusses the Rockets' predicament.
Portland's home-court advantage will be oppressive, and the Rockets have no one to match up with LaMarcus Aldridge. The Rockets knew Aldridge would put them in a difficult position - he's too agile for their centers, too physical for their power forwards - but he's single-handedly controlled the series and there's no reason to believe his dominance will cease. This isn't to say the Rockets are finished. They could win a Game 3 shootout if James Harden shakes out of his playoff doldrums. But their defense, outside of Patrick Beverley and Dwight Howard, is disconcerting. The situation in Chicago is virtually the reverse. The offensively challenged Bulls have no margin for error, and yet, you could have said the same thing about them for the past two years. They always respond, always find a way, and anybody who thinks they will just hobble off into the abyss hasn't been paying attention.
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes...
"They're hitting the boards hard because we're standing on the side of them," McHale said. "We're not getting in front of them. We're giving them the rebounds. We're not doing anything to stop them. We might as well run to halfcourt. We're not doing anything the other way. I don't know how that could be slowing us down other than the fact we take it out of the basket after they get a tip-in."
A Portland barber is putting the pinwheel logo of the Portland Trail Blazers on the heads of local basketball fans.
For each Blazers playoff win, Danny Bostic of Celebrity Status Barbershop near Southeast 105th and Stark said he will design a new team-themed 'do and upload it to Instagram for the world to see.
Brett Koremenos of Deadspin.com takes a look at Terry Stotts.
Corbin Smith of Portland Roundball Society writes...
Corbin is sitting inside a golden dirigible with a massive painting of the Trail Blazers pinwheel on the side. The cabin is filled with Trail Blazer memorabilia: Clyde Drexler fatheads, marble statues of Walton and Lucas, a representation of Sheed as a Madonna. He is wearing a ruby and diamond encrusted robe that says "TRAIL BLAZERS: WORLD CHAMPIONS ‘77, __." He presumes the empty space will be filled with the number 14. He is drinking a bottle of Night Trail brand fortified wine, the official alcoholic bevvy of the Portland Trail Blazers. Somehow the liquid in the bottle is colored alternating red and white. He is considering a presentation sized NBA playoffs bracket and chewing on the capa red and white colored marker. The Rockets are crossed out and he has written "Beverly Sux" in the margins 10-12 times.)
Jason Hortsch of RipCityProject.com writes...
After the entire bench scored an embarrassing seven points in Game One against the Houston Rockets, Wright more than doubled that total by chipping in 15 points himself during Game Two.
Not only did he chip in 15, but he did so in a highly efficient manner - on four of five shooting (three of four from beyond the arc and four of four from the line). In addition to his scoring contributions, Wright also added four rebounds, two steals, two assists, and three blocks in 18 minutes. The more you look at it, the prettier that stat line gets.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter