Trail Blazers, Rockets: NBA Playoffs Game 3 Preview


Apr 23, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) controls the ball during the first quarter as Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) defends in game two during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s a great day to be a Blazer!” Brian Wheeler has probably said that thousands of times. Yet Wednesday was truly a great day to be a Trail Blazer. The Portland Trail Blazers took a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Houston Rockets with a 112-105 win. Both wins have come on the road which makes them taste that much sweeter.

Dusty Harrah, who co-hosts Trail Blazers Pulse on CSNNW, posted the following tweet before Wednesday’s game:

Losing 11 straight Game 2’s should have rattled the psyche of the Trail Blazers. Last night, it looked like the Trail Blazers had never lost a Game 2 in franchise history. Even after Dwight Howard came out and smacked them in the teeth, posting 19 points on 8-9 shooting in the first quarter, the Trail Blazers were in the game.

With the Rockets all-star center scoring at will, the Trail Blazers decided to create their offense through their All-Star. LaMarcus Aldridge had 11 points on 5-7 shooting in the first quarter to keep the margin close. After trailing by eight in the first, the Trail Blazers didn’t lose another quarter the rest of the game.

Game 3 will be back in Portland tonight. The Trail Blazers finished the regular season with a 31-10 home record. Everyone knows it’s tough to win in Portland and the fans will be roaring with excitement and pride. Houston has struggled to defend any player in a Trail Blazers jersey. James Harden has been dared to shoot and still hasn’t found his shot. All of these things, combined with the fact that only three teams in NBA history have won a best of seven series after losing the first two games at home, spell disaster for the Rockets.

Things To Watch For

How will the Trail Blazers respond?

The Trail Blazers are up 2-0 in a best of seven series. The next two games are at home, where they have thousands of fans behind them. Before Game 2, Damian Lillard was quoted saying, “We got one game on the road, which we set out to do. Or you could say we missed the opportunity to steal two games. We know it’ll be tough, but we want to be greedy about the situation. We understand that we could have played better in Game 1, and we want to come out and be our best in Game 2 and get another win.” That’s exactly what they did. Now all they need is do it two more times. There is still a lot of work to be done in this series but if the Trail Blazers can continue to have that type of mindset, I don’t see how Houston can stop them.

How long will Harden struggle?

As I mentioned, Harden has struggled to find his rhythm. He is only shooting 29.8 percent from the field (14-47) and has connected on only 26.3 percent from three-point range (5-19). Harden also committed five turnovers in last night’s game. I’ve seen this Harden before and he normally shows up when he is needed most. However, I have also seen the side of Harden that can create his own shot and score at will. Do I think he’s the best player on the Rockets? Yes. He is far more consistent than Dwight Howard and leads his team with a scoring average of 25.4 this season. I expect that Harden will have a break through within the next two games. Will Portland be able to stop the duo of Harden and Howard if they get hot?

What impact will Batum and Matthews have?

I called out the bench after Game 1 and they responded beautifully. In Game 2, Portland’s bench poured in 30 points compared to the Rockets 13 points. Terrific job by the coaching staff and players. Now, let’s call out Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. The two starters scored a combined 15 points on 7-22 shooting in Game 2. It was great to see Batum come out aggressive after being a non-factor in Game 1 as well. He scored the first four points of the game for the Trail Blazers but only put in two more the entire game. Matthews only had nine points after contributing 18 points in Game 1. He was able to commit fewer turnovers and fouls but was absent on offense. His main task is to keep Harden in check and he has done that extremely well. It’s hard to be rough on Batum and Matthews when they are doing things to help the team win that aren’t on the stat sheet. Yet in case the Rockets miraculously find a way to stop Aldridge, Batum and Matthews need to be ready to score.

Follow @RipCityProject