Game 58 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Houston Rockets


Blazers: 27-30 (4th Northwest Division)

Rockets: 31-25 (3rd Southwest Divison)

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

Projected Blazer Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5”, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8”, MSB Le Mans, France) PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11”, Texas), C Joel Przybilla (#10, 7’1”, Minnesota)

Projected Rocket Starting Lineup: PG Goran Dragic (#3, 6’3”, Union Olimpija, Slovenia), SG Courtney Lee (#5, 6’5”, Western Kentucky), SF Chandler Parsons (#25, 6’9”, Florida), PF Luis Scola (#4, 6’9”, Tau Ceramica, Argentina), C Marcus Camby (#29, 6’11”, Massachusetts)

Not long ago Matt Calkins of The Columbian speculated, and rightly so, that Portland’s season tipped for the worse after the much discussed then announced incorrect goal-tending call in the Blazers’ overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 6th in Portland.

The game that followed that game was the Blazers’ equally dispiriting loss 103-96 to these same Houston Rockets who Portland hosts Monday night. It was that game, a game in which the Blazers surrendered back-to-back 30-point quarters and allowed the Rockets to shoot 53% from the field and 44% from deep for the game, that demonstrated, to me at least, that this Portland team might have more problems than everybody initially thought.

Not to say Houston is, or was, a bad team, but at that time, this Rocket team was just the type of team the Blazers could have beaten up: no real inside presence to speak of, lots of perimeter shooters, an interest in getting out and running.

Two months later, and the story hasn’t changed much for the Rockets. It has, however, changed for Portland. And it’s that change that gives Monday night’s game an interesting wrinkle. The Western Conference Playoff picture is starting to solidify. San Antonio and OKC will fight each other to the death for the top spot, but they stand alone from the herd with a solid six and half game cushion over the Lakers in third. Three, four, five could see some movement in the sprint to the finish, but neither LA team or the Memphis Grizzlies are likely to fall below the five spot. The final three teams are in a dog fight too (if you’re keeping score at home that’s Houston, Dallas, and Denver in that order), and also have to contend with Phoenix and Utah, respectively a game and a game and a half out of eighth. Notice Portland isn’t on that list.

Houston is locked in a tough battle for positioning; for them it’s not about making the Playoffs, it’s about positioning in the Playoffs. In my mind, unless you’re happy being a perpetual also ran, where you fall on the Playoff list is far more important than just being included. If the Playoffs started tomorrow, the Rockets would have a first round date with the Lakers. They could improve a game and half and draw the Clippers. Although LA Playoff Team Number Two isn’t such a great match up, this late in the season, any improvement is good improvement.

Once again, we’re faced with a game in which Portland’s opponent has much more on the line than they do. Prepare yourself for that. The Blazers have a chance to keep Houston from jumping in the ranks. That’s about it. Whether or not that’s enough motivation to put up a fight when Houston comes out guns blazing we’ll have to wait and see.

Like I did with the Gerald Wallace return game last week, I would like to devote at least part of this game preview to talking about Marcus Camby, making his first Rose Garden appearance since the trade deadline fire sale that sent him to Texas.

I feel like for a lot of Blazer fans Marcus Camby’s Portland career will always be inextricably linked to that of Gerald Wallace, since they departed at the same time, and seemed to have close to the same overall impact on the franchise (little to none). I think that’s a mistake. I feel like Marcus Camby had a very successful run with Portland. In fact, I think that if Gerald Wallace had played as well in a Blazer jersey as Marcus Camby did, they might still both be in Portland.

Camby came in to fill a very important role at a time when the Blazers were in dire straits. In 2009-10 (kind of a lost season for me since it was before taking over this blog and after the 08-09 season in which I was an intern with the team) Portland was in serious need of a center. Everybody they threw out on the court got hurt that year, and losing Greg Oden (against the Rockets) and then Joel Przybilla greatly reduced the team’s size. Enter Marcus Camby. He didn’t turn the season around, not really, but he kept it from flat lining.

I listened to his 30-point game against the Thunder in the second to last home game of 09-10, the game that introduced the world to the MAR-CUS CAM-BY cheer, and I, like everybody else, decided after this game that regardless of how long he was a Blazer he would always be one of my favorites.

The Blazer faithful have a tendency to adopt forever those players they like the most, even if they don’t spend much time in the Rose City. Case in point Juwan Howard. One season in Portland made him a Blazer for life. Gerald Wallace will probably get cheered in the Rose Garden for at least the next season, but if he stays in the East and comes to Portland only once a year, eventually the fan fair will probably die down. I doubt Marcus Camby will ever get to play in Portland without getting a standing ovation when he’s introduced.

Couple of things I’ll be watching for:

  • Bench play: I’m guessing coach Kaleb Canales will continue to reach deep into the bench. His second unit guys need to prove they can hang with Houston’s, especially since Kyle Lowry will be coming off the bench and looking to take it to Jonny Flynn in limited rehab minutes.
  • Three point shooting: Houston blew up the Blazers last time these two teams met in Portland from behind the three-point line. The Blazers will have to get out on all of the Rockets’ shooters, run guys off the line, and stay committed to defending the perimeter. They’ve struggled all those things this season. They’ve also struggled with keeping teams from getting shots. If Houston shoots 50% or up from deep, Portland doesn’t really have a chance.
  • Mental toughness: There’s no reason the Blazers shouldn’t play with reckless abandon Monday night, but that doesn’t mean they will. Portland can hang with this team, but it will take a real commitment to being focused mentally.

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject