If you’re a basketball junkie like me, you’ve circled this date for a long time. Finally, the NBA returns back to our lives. I feel so whole again. More importantly though…Blazer Basketball is back.
That’s right, one of the most anticipated seasons in recent Blazer history begins tonight at the Rose Garden. Fun fact: this is the first time since the 2002-03 season that the Blazers actually kick off their season at the Rose Garden. Fun fact #2, the Blazers have not lost a home season opener (i.e. the first game at home) since the 00-01 season. Just throwing those out there if you want to feel extra knowledgeable at lunch or something. Before we talk about the Blazers, we must talk about the opponents. *cue ominous music* The Houston Rockets.
(Sidenote: Just to throw it out there, I would like nothing more than to pummel the Rockets by 20. Not bitter or anything. Moving on.)
Now plenty has changed since we last saw the Rockets play the Blazers. There is no Yao Ming to cause us all undue stress and anxiety. There is no Tracy McGrady…oh wait he wasn’t there anyways. There is no Ron Artest to jack up crazy shots. Actually I’m going to miss that. It seems like it should be a cakewalk tonight, right? Not too fast. The Rockets have been without Yao and McGrady so many times over the past few years it would almost be a chore to point them all out. The key is that they have always found ways to be successful without them on the court. I do not expect this to change at all. Why? Rick Adelman does a tremendous job of getting his guys to buy in to the system. And the system works. The Rockets are going to work hard and work together. Offensively they’ll be more open but looking to move the ball more. Without one guy to really consistently feed, their offense could have more of a natural flow to it. Also, without a superstar, the need for defense goes up a bit. They’ll be looking to not give anything up easy. Remember, there were times in last season’s playoffs where their second unit came up huge. The lineups that shouldn’t have been scoring (Lowry/Wafer/Landry) were scoring.
What the Rocket lack in proven top talent, they make up for in hungry guys looking to seize an opportunity. Without Yao, McGrady or Artest, guys are going to have to step up offensively. Aaron Brooks comes into tonight looking to repeat his impressive post-season numbers and you know he’s salivating at the chance to match-up against Portland. In last year’s first round series, Brooks averaged 15.3 points, 4.3 assists, shot 44% from the field and 44% from behind the arc. Trevor Ariza will be asked to shoulder a major load. There are questions about whether he can do it, but you have to understand a guy like him has always wanted this kind of role. You never know what kind of explosions they might produce. Another key to this game is going to be Luis Scola. He’s been known to score (gave Blazers fits last year), but now without Yao he IS the post-offense. Will he be able to improve with more attention or will more touches mean more production? Not to forget about the undersized–but tough duo of Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes and the always reliable Shane Battier. I just expect a lot of scrap from the Rockets tonight, and I’m hoping the Blazers know they’ll have to fight.
Speaking of Portland, it’s Game #1 of 82+. There has been a ton of hype and hooplah surrounding this Blazer team coming into this season. Tonight we finally get to take a look at this season’s team. I’ve tried to avoid the preseason like the swine flu and for the most part have succeeded. Now with my own eyes I get to see what we’ve got going. The unanswered questions are spinning around in my head. How good will the second unit be? How good is Oden? Are Roy and LMA still good with paychecks? How will Martell Webster look? What kind of chemistry do Roy/LMA/Oden have? Or Roy/Miller? Or Miller/Oden? I’ll admit this, the person I’m most excited to see is Greg Oden. And yes, all eyes will be on Mr. Oden tonight. I’ve always tried to temper my expectations with him and not give him any attention, but he’s done enough to make me take notice. Can he carry over that pre-season dominance to the regular season? And how giddy will Blazer fans be if he can? He’s got a nice opportunity but tonight will also be a nice test for Oden. What Scola/Hayes/Landry lack in size, they make up for in physicality and effort. Sometimes the undersized big men can get under people’s skin. I’m interested to see how he handles it.
Keys to the Game
- Be prepared to fight. Houston might not have a lot of ‘superstar’ talent offensively, but they’re going to make up for it. They won’t be letting Portland get anything easy. They may not concentrate as much on Roy as they did during the post-season, but believe you me they’ll be looking to make everyone not number 7 beat them. My biggest fear is Houston just out-working and out-scrapping a more talented Blazer team and winning a game they shouldn’t because Portland wasn’t ready to out-tough the Rockets.
- Take advantage inside. With the exception of 6-11 Chris David Andersen from Australia, the Rockets have next to no size. Take advantage of this. Look to post Oden and Aldridge up. Perimeter players need to attack the basket and try to get to the foul line.
- Limit turnovers. Make Houston earn every bucket, don’t let them get easy ones.
For many of you, this is your first look at this Blazer team. I myself am included. One of the big issues with a season opener is that as a fan you have 6 months of pent-up thoughts. There’s about a million questions that are going to go unanswered tonight. It becomes easy to just nitpick every little thing. ‘Oh snap, LaMarcus dribbled off his foot we shouldn’t have paid him’ or ‘Dang, Brandon’s 3-10 right now we shouldn’t have paid him’ or ‘Oh no, Greg’s in foul trouble again it’s a lost cause’. All those are human nature…but realize this is the frist game. There’s so much basketball left after tonight it’s not even funny. This team shouldn’t be at its best tonight and the sooner people realize this the better it will be.
Tags: Aaron Brooks Andre Miller Brandon Roy Greg Oden Houston Rockets LaMarcus Aldridge Luis Scola Martell Webster Nate McMillan NBA General Portland Houston Portland Trail Blazers Rockets Blazers Shane Battier Steve Blake Trevor Ariza Yao Ming