March. 01, 2011; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers small forward Gerald Wallace (3) grabs a rebound in front of Houston Rockets power forward Patrick Patterson (right) during the second quarter of the game at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE

Game 26 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Houston Rockets

Blazers: 14-11 (4th Northwest Division)

Rockets: 14-11 (2nd Southwest Division)

Game Details: Rose Garden Arena, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: 750 AM (KXTG)

Projected Blazer Starting Lineup: PG Jamal Crawford (#11, 6’5’’, Michigan), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5’’, Marquette), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7’’, Alabama), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11’’, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11’’, Massachusetts)

Projected Rocket Starting Lineup: PG Kyle Lowry (#7, 6′, Villanova), SG Kevin Martin (#12, 6’7”, Western Carolina), SF Chandler Parsons (#25, 6’9”, Florida), PF Luis Scola (#4, 6’9”, Tau Ceramica, Argentina), C Samuel Dalembert (#21, 6’11”, Seton Hall)

Portland’s final home match-up of this three-game stand against the Houston Rockets is a hard one to handicap. On the one hand, minus the loss to Orlando–I’ll bring up the OKC game in a minute don’t worry–the Blazers have taken care of business at home, doubly against teams at least as good or worse than they are. The Rockets have the same win-loss record as Portland, but as a team, they probably aren’t at the Blazers’ level. Advantage Portland.

On the other hand, that Oklahoma City game can’t be far from the mind of this group of Blazers. Whenever a team suits up for a Wednesday game still trying to win Monday’s game, they’re in trouble. Advantage Houston.

But then again, on the third hand if you will, the Blazers handed over a very winnable game to this same Rocket team last month. If the home and home Phoenix Suns games in January can be used as Exhibit A, this team has a vested interest in avenging losses. Advantage Portland.

Using those metrics, I’d have this game going Portland’s way. That being said, that middle thing just might end up being a factor. A lot of professional basketball is mental. Those teams with the strongest mental fortitude tend to also be those teams that win the most. Wednesday night will be a test of where Portland falls on the spectrum of mental toughness. A generous assessment puts them on the strong end, but the way this team folded in overtime on Monday, and in January in Houston, might challenge that notion.

So, what does Portland have to do to not let Monday carry over to Wednesday? First of all, forget about it all together. Having the NBA come out and say, yeah you got jobbed doesn’t help, but it seems like these guys have had the right reaction for the most part. That should help. Second, get out, play hard, and turn this game into a three quarter affair.

The Blazers have big lead/blowout potential, and they have the match-ups in this one to make that happen. But if they don’t work hard to get a lead in this one, and it creeps into the late stages with Portland trying to get a lead or push a lead, thoughts about letting the officials deciding a second game in a row might start cropping up. If that happens, they’re in trouble.

I suspect the coaching staff has been drilling it into the players’ heads that Monday is over, and that in the long run one bad call won’t ruin a season. So hopefully we won’t have to worry too much. Execution, defense, and smart ball handling/shot making, and the Blazers should win this thing going away. In reality, that’s what will wipe the OKC game off Portland’s, business as usual at home. At this point, doing that should win a lot of games.

Here’s what I’m watching for:

  • LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Samuel Dalembert: Sammy Dalembert is the kind of defender that LaMarcus struggles against. He’s big and strong, and plays a ton of physical, man-up defense. He’s going to make LA shoot over him, and when LaMarcus tries to drive Sam’s going to send him to the line. Against OKC LA collected a season-high 39 points against a slew of physical Thunder defenders. LA has gone for at least 20 four out of his last five against Dalembert. Doing it again tonight will give the Blazers a big boost.
  • Bench scoring: The Blazers have a distinct advantage when it comes to depth. In the January 14th match-up in Houston, three bench players scored in double figures. The key for Portland’s second unit is going to be defense. Houston has a couple of guys that can score off the bench, but mostly when they’re wide open. Not letting Chase Budinger get open looks from three, and limiting Goran Dragic’s dribble penetration will help the Blazers win the bench game. The bench isn’t going to win this game for Portland, but if they let Houston’s second unit have a big night, they could lose it.
  • Can Portland Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin: That’s Houston’s whole team right there. Lowry and Martin went for 33 and 28 respectively last time these two teams played. Stopping Lowry is a task. He’s quick, he can shoot, and he’s a smart ball handler. Portland’s guards are going to have to stay in front of Lowry, and they’re going to have to keep him from getting easy lay-ups. Ball denial worked against Steve Nash. It’s not the preferred method of defense I know, most guys like to battle when their man has the ball, but it can work. Stopping Martin is also a task, but a bit of a different task. Martin is sneaky, he gets a lot of points from the free throw line, and he can score in bunches. Portland’s perimeter defenders are going to have to stay down on his pump fakes, and they’re going to have to finish their defensive plays against Martin to keep him from getting and-ones.

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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