Blazers/Rockets Pre-Thoughts


And now….*cue ominous music*….The Texas Two-Step.

“SJ…What’s the Texas Two-Step?” It’s not a new dance move. It’s not country line dancing. It is a combination of shots of alcohol that will make you shake your head (ask me if you really wanna know). But I’m talking about drinking, we’re talking about basketball. And that means we’re talking about back-to-back games, on the road, against two of the Texas teams. I can’t recall this road trip a) ever being fun or b) ever going well. But tonight the Blazers embark on a short but meaningful journey as they face the Rockets and then face the Spurs the following night. To put this in perspective we’ve had about as much success playing in Texas as rap artists have had at the Grammy’s. We’ve lost 9 of our last 11 games in Houston and 13 of out last 14 in San Antonio. Yikes right?

(It’s crazy to think that by Thursday we could be sitting in 6th or 7th place or even be in 3rd. The insanity of the Western Conference. Truth be told we really need a split of these games. It is just entirely too close in the West to afford anything resembling a losing streak. I’d like to get that one win tonight.)

Tonight brings us a matchup between the current 4 and 5 teams in the Western Conference. Both are streaking: Portland comes in having won their last 3 and 5 of their last 6 while Houston has won 4 in a row and 5 of their last 6. Both teams are freakishly identical record wise with the Blazers up one game in the loss column, both are great at home and middling on the road. Both teams are dealing with injuries that should be devastating but injuries that both teams seem to manage well with. Portland dealing with Oden on the sidelines again (6-3 without him in the lineup) while Houston has T-Mac on the sidelines (15-6 without him). All in all it’s adding up to a great battle between two great teams.

Tracy McGrady is out for the season. Yay right, this should be a piece of cake? Wrong. So wrong. Dr. Cox tell them how wrong they are. Make no mistake about it this Houston team is more dangerous than the Octo-Mom around a test tube. Get it, got it, good. As a matter of fact…this team is a lot better without T-Mac in the lineup. Let me fix that sentence before you all start throwing rocks and cussing me out in the comments. *Ahem*. This Houston team is a lot, a lot, A LOT better without hobbling T-Mac in the lineup. There. The stats don’t lie, I know I just dropped it in the previous paragraph but they are 15-6 without T-Mac and 20-15 with him in. That’s a mouthful right there. We should know this from last year but Rick Adelman does a great job getting this team to play well and play together no matter who is on the court. Yao goes down last year and they still find ways to win. T-Mac goes down and they’ve won 4 in a row. Look at what he got out of a guy like Von Wafer? He was our hot garbage and he’s out there playing quality minutes for the Rockets. Give Adelman some credit people.

(And honestly, if it weren’t for his numerous playoff failures…wouldn’t this guy be considered one of the best coaches ever? Either way I think he should. I’m just saying.)

Back to the Rockets, the key to this lineup sans T-Mac is their balance. I hate that word but it’s true again for this team. Obviously, Yao or Artest are going to have to carry the load offensively. And now you can see why getting Artest is huge as now he can step into that #2 scoring role. But in addition to those two, you have to deal with their role players. And the supporting cast is a lot better than last year. Playmaker Aaron Brooks is a guy who can really get it going, the always solid Shane Battier and Luis Scola. Scola may be the definition of a banger. He’s coming into tonight’s game with 4 straight double-doubles and I worry about Portland dealing with him. I know Big Joel is going to give Yao everything he can handle and some but I wonder how LMA, Travis and co. deal with Scola. It’s a completely different ball game if one of those three guys gets it going. Brooks is playing with a ton of confidence ever since Rafer Alston left town…he knows it’s his show and he’s playing like it. If you saw his swagger during that Dallas game the other night it gave you flashbacks to that Oregon team that went to the Elite 8. Battier is going to hit some three’s. All in all it could be a rough night defensively.

Keys to success:

  • Be physical and be aggressive. Houston is a very physical team. Scola, Artest, Battier, Chuck Hayes, Landry…they want to bang you a little bit. Sometimes we show up against these teams and other times we don’t. We can’t get punched in the mouth early and try and comeback on the road, it’s too tough in Houston. We’ll have to match the intensity from the start. Staring a hole right through you LaMarcus.
  • Make Yao earn every point. I have a good feeling about Big Joel’s ability to harass Yao into a rough night. He did it in Portland and he has the defensive talent to do it again. Yao is going to get touches and Yao is going to put up shots. It’s important we don’t let him get into a rhythm early which will make us alter the rest of our defense as the game goes on. It’s also important Big Joel doesn’t get in foul trouble because things could get ugly.
  • Contain Artest. Notice how I didn’t drop the ‘c’ word on Yao. Artest is the type of physical, slashing scorer that we don’t have much a match-up for. And without T-Mac in the lineup he’ll be more of a focal point of the offense. I don’t like Batum trying to guard him driving, nor do I like B-Roy having to do it a lot of the game.
  • Be patient offensively. Houston is good defensively. Battier and Artest can cause nightmares and Brooks is quick. They aren’t lockdown though because JJ Barea looked liked Chris Paul the other night. And I know Barea isn’t as horrible as I make him sound…but 26? Come on.
  • Hit open shots. With Yao in the middle I expect a lot of drive kicks. Blake, Rudy and co. are going to have to make open shots.
  • Box out. Scola, Landry and Hayes are the type of forwards who cause the Blazers issues. You’ve seen what Milsap and Brandon Bass has done to us this year.