Blazers/Rockets Pre-Thoughts

“Honestly there was nothing positive. I couldn’t take anything positive from that loss. We got it handed to us… There wasn’t anything good about that. They kicked our butt.” - Brandon Roy (credit: Ben from Blazer’s Edge)

It’s a new day, a new game, and hopefully after tonight we’ll be talking about this being a new series.

Disappointing, dominating, gut-wrenching, ugly, soft, inexperienced, tentative, scared. All words used to describe events that took place in Houston’s Game 1 win on Saturday. And even before one second has been played in tonight’s Game 2, there  are already two words that are attached to it: Must-win.

Everyone knows the scenario. The bright lights will shine even brighter in the Rose Garden for this Game 2. Portland finds themselves in a must-win situation tonight at home. A loss tonight brings doom to the Blazers horizon. A loss will send Houston to their home-court up 2-0 and will compeletely change the course of the Blazer post-season. A Houston win changes things from ‘if’ the Blazers will get eliminated to ‘when’ the Blazers will get eliminated. The beautiful thing about the playoffs is that momentum can swing in an instant. Don’t believe me? Ask Chicago and Dallas. Those wins on Saturday now feel miles away. The highs and lows are more intense and come way quicker than in the regular season. Gone are the days of easy opponents and huge winning streaks. It’s about competiting and dealing with adversity quickly. It is all about what you bring to the table that night. Game 1 is out of the window. It’s about focusing all of your attention on one team, breaking them down and finding a way to take something from them. In Game 1, Houston did just that. Now it’s Portland’s turn. Portland has had two days to stew in their own sick. Two days to tweak everything and make adjustments to everything that didn’t work. Two days for Nate to figure this out. And I guess the one positive about taking a beating like the one handed out on Saturday is that you can make plenty of adjustments. You’ve heard the same talk for 2 days so I won’t keep it going, but Portland is down but not out. Take Boston and San Antonio’s victories after losing Game 1′s at home. This is still a series until someone proves otherwise.

The one thing we do know is that Blazers will be ready for Game 2. The shy and tentative Blazers from Game 1 will not be allowed in the Rose Garden. There are orders for this Blazers to be pummelled with steel chairs on sight. Over the past couple of days, the chatter surrounding these two teams has been insane. Rocket fans have been gloating (try and read a Houston blog or newspaper. Try it). Blazer fans have been moping/being positive. The anticipation has been building since the buzzer sounded on Saturday night. Both teams have been saying the right things in the media, now one of them will have to do it. Portland’s statements have been obvious while Houston’s have been way more subtle. They  are continuing to say that this is ‘very much still a series’ and all of that jazz. Make no mistake about it people, Houston is a veteran team who smells blood and will be on the attack. If this were a UFC fight they definitely just cut us open right before the end of Round 1 and are looking to go for the kill. They have experienced playoff loss after playoff loss, with a chance to jump on an opponent 2-0 you go for it. And that’s exactly what they’ll be looking to do tonight. Adelman will have this team ready to play.

The best part about Game 2 is that it means Game 1 is officially, officially  in the history books. It also means the time for talking is over. We all know Portland played one of their worst games of the year on Saturday. The big question is do they have what it takes to absorb that loss and dig themselves out of this hole? Only time will tell.

Keys to success:

  • Be the aggressor. Houston bullied Portland in Game 1. Not only did it just feel like that watching the game, it looked like it in the box score. 44-30 Houston on the boards and 28 FTA’s to Portland’s 16. Blazers have to come out and want this…well they have to NEED this game from the start. The aggression has to be there on both ends. The will to compete has to be there for 48 minutes because like I said, Houston is going to want this win. They are going to look to go for the knockout blow. Portland is going to have to be ready because winning will be a challenge.
  • Make the right adjustments. Game 1 is done, in the history books and over with. Game 2 is a fresh new start. You now know what to expect and after two days of prep you are armed with weapons to counter-act them. Everything comes down to making key adjustments in the playoffs. To win, you make the adjustments and you take things away from your opponent. Portland has to make adjustments from Game 1 on both ends to even have a chance. Portland can come out with all of the passion, energy and fire that they want but if they don’t make the right adjustments they won’t win. Offensively, they have to open everything back up and not settle. Defensively, they have to take Houston out of their rhythm. These adjustments need to be made for Portland to win this game.
  • Take Yao out of his rhythm. Again, the challenge of figuring out how to stop Yao Ming is one of the biggest keys to the Blazers success. I never felt like the defense on him was atrocious on Saturday night, more like he just made huge plays. Superstars sometimes just show up like that. Odd since he’s traditionally struggled against us all year. Portland isn’t going to stop him, but they can disrupt him. If Portland can get him putting up 15-16 shot attempts or in foul trouble and disrupt his rhythm they should be on their way. And remember, as Yao goes the Rockets tend to go offensively. Portland will have to figure out how to take him away and they will have to do it fast. If they can prove that they can take Yao out of the equation, they can spread some doubt in the minds of the uber-confident Rockets.
  • Contain Aaron Brooks. If he averages 20+ this series, Portland has no chance. Including Saturday night’s win, when Brooks scores 16+ points the Rockets are 17-4 on the year. You can see what stopping him is almost as important as stopping Yao. And realistically, it could be more important than stopping Yao. Stopping Brooks will eliminate their third scoring option. It will also eliminate a perimeter player who can create his own shot at will, which has supposedly been one of the Rockets weakness. I’m not too worried about Artest because crazy people can’t hide their crazy forever. Keeping Brooks in check is high on the priority list in my book, and it will be incredibly difficult because of his confidence and Blake’s lack of foot-speed. Is Bayless the answer? I’m not sure. We’ll find out, hopefully we won’t find out too late.
  • Movement on offense. This is a major key for Portland and while it sounds general it is very true.  The offense was very stagnant on Saturday night. There were a ton of reasons for this. Too much 1-0n-1, too many guys tentative, not enough ball movement. Roy had to be too much of a scorer and not enough of a facilitator. Too much settling and too much of the Rockets dictating. It was one of the worst offensive performances of the season. Simply put, the Blazers have to play Blazer basketball. And Blazer Basketball isn’t 41% from the field and 9% from the three point line. Blazer Basketball isn’t Channing Frye jumpers or Sergio Rodriguez recklessly taking it at Dikembe Mutombo. It isn’t Rudy holding the ball and deciding to shoot a three because no one is open. All those things and some took place Saturday night.
  • Help the stars. Roy and LaMarcus have tough matchups. Someone has to step up and put pressure on the rest of Houston’s defense. Steve Blake, Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw are going to have to be those guys. We need Blake and Rudy’s shooting ability and Travis’ ability to create his own shot. Everyone should be loose and in attack mode. Speaking of which…
  • LaMarcus Aldridge must go to work. This isn’t the sole offensive key but I find this to be one of the most important. He has got to figure out his match-up with Scola and the physical bigs. Honestly, Portland can’t win this series with LaMarcus Aldridge playing the way we all know he can. They can’t. The Blazers are going to give him the ball, we know this. But if he keeps struggling to get to the paint and ends up dribbling, the offense will get bogged-down. Then it turns into a 1-on-1 fest trying to get him going in addition to relying on Roy. He has to be the LMA that we saw the second half of the season and take over. Hopefully that chip on his shoulder will be Gilbert-sized on Tuesday night.
  • Shut their bench down. If Von Wafer, Kyle Lowry and co. give productive minutes or score big points, things probably will end up bad.
  • Get your swagger back. The Blazers had no swag on Saturday night. None. They looked like 16 year old boys trying to ask girls to homecoming. Houston was like Razor Ramon, just out there oozing machismo. They had their bully swag going and it didn’t seem like Portland was in their league. Time to get the swag back up. No need to be scurred, it can’t get worse than Game 1. Play with reckless abandon, be the youthful yet mature team that you have been all season. No need to get caught up in the playoffs and start wearing suits to games or wear black shoes and black socks. Just….do you.

7:00. Rose Garden. NBA TV. Be there. It’s time to see if Portland can wiggle their big toe.

Tags: Aaron Brooks Blazers Rockets Game 2 Brandon Roy Channing Frye Dikembe Mutombo Houston Rockets Kyle Lowry LaMarcus Aldridge Luis Scola Nate McMillan Portland Trail Blazers Rick Adelman Ron Artest Rose Garden Rudy Fernandez Sergio Rodriguez Steve Blake Travis Outlaw Von Wafer Yao Ming

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