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Apr 25, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews (2) tips the ball away from Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the fourth quarter in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Trail Blazers, Rockets: NBA Playoffs Game 4 Preview

 

After a gut wrenching loss in Game 3, the Portland Trail Blazers look to defend home court and take a 3-1 series lead over the Houston Rockets. Tonight at 6:3o p.m. PDT, the Trail Blazers hope to regain a two game lead but will face a newly invigorated Rockets team.

James Harden claims that the pressure has shifted back on the Trail Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge thinks they still have control of the series and the pressure is still on the Rockets. Either way, this game will be close, just like all of the previous ones. In game 3, the Rockets figured out how to reduce Aldridge’s impact, as he finished with 23 points after having more than 4o points in each of the first two games. Harden, who still struggled from the field shooting only 37 percent, had a career playoff high 37 points.

Tonight’s game is important for both teams. The Rockets will try to even the series and regain home court advantage (although it doesn’t seem to be much of an advantage this postseason) and the Trail Blazers hope to be one game closer to closing out the Rockets. This series has been one of the best so far this postseason. Each game has seen either a tie or single point advantage at halftime. Portland will need to get off to a quicker start if they hope to win. In Game 3, the Trail Blazers started in a 9-0 hole and lost the first quarter 35-24.

 

Things To Watch For

 

How Will LaMarcus Aldridge Handle The Bigs?

In Game 3, Rockets coach Kevin McHale tweaked his starting lineup. He started Omer Asik over Terrence Jones in order to keep Aldridge off balance. Dwight Howard also moved over to defend Aldridge when a switch was made. The plan definitely worked as Aldridge struggled early on. Aldridge did find a little bit of his rhythm in the second quarter as he adjusted to the bigger front line. I suspect that McHale will start Asik once again. This time, it might not work to his favor. Aldridge continues to handle anything thrown at him and yesterday’s practice session probably focused a lot on how to play against the bigger Asik.

 

Will Damian Lillard Continue To Shine?

Lillad has been outstanding in this series. It is his first playoff experience yet he looks like a savvy veteran. He became the first Trail Blazer to record 30+ points, 6+ rebounds, and 6+ assists in a playoff game since Terry Porter and Clyde Drexler in 1992. Lillard is averaging 26.3 points through the first three games and is averaging 45.0 minutes. His lowest offensive output has been 18 points, which came in Game 2, but he also had 11 assists and eight rebounds in that game. If Aldridge struggles in Game 4, will Lillard be able to pick up the slack?

 

Who Wins At Small Ball?

Game 3 featured the big starting lineup of Asik and Howard. It also featured the return of small ball to the NBA Playoffs. The Rockets found success when they went small late in the game. This lineup included four guards: Harden, Troy Daniels, Jeremy Lin, and Patrick Beverley. With Dwight Howard the only non-guard on the court, the Rockets took advantage of speed and three-point ability. The Trail Blazers can counter this with a small lineup of their own. Leave Aldridge out to defend Howard, then throw in Lillard, Mo Williams, Wesley Matthews, Dorell Wright, and Nicolas Batum. That would be a great match-up across the board. So what will Terry Stotts do to counter McHale’s small ball?

 

 

Tags: Damian Lillard Dwight Howard James Harden LaMarcus Aldridge Portland Trail Blazers

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