April 17, 2009
After 1230 regular season games and whole lot of G, the 2009 NBA Playoffs are finally here. (Tomorrow, folks. To-mor-row.) Now, you've already heard my crackpot predictions, and KD throws in his two cents below, but we also asked a few team bloggin' experts to help set the first round table. Our final preview: Ben from Blazer's Edge and "Bring Back Novak" from The Dream Shake breakdown the Portland-Houston series.
Blazer's Edge: There aren't many teams in the L as hot as Portland right now. And certainly there is no team as hot and as delusional as the Blazers: If you’ve listened to Nate McMillan tell the team's story this past week, you’ve heard that 54 wins, a 10 deep roster, home court advantage and 9 wins in the last 10 games don’t mean a thing. You’ve heard that the Blazers are actually the rest of the league’s most-desired match-up because of their youth and playoff inexperience.
It’s an interesting psychological approach, one that has drawn smirks, smiles, and open laughter from assembled media members. Forget managing expectations, Nate seems dead-set on presenting the playoffs to his youngsters to his group as if expectations do not exist.
No one can be sure how one of the youngest teams in recent history will handle the playoff spotlight, and the Rockets are certainly a tough pull for the Blazers. They have multiple big, active bodies to throw at LaMarcus Aldridge. And, of course, Battier and Artest give Brandon Roy more trouble than almost anybody. The Rockets also have a man with tree trunks for legs playing center. He falls over comically on occasion but is quite good at basketball.
For the Blazers to take this series, they will need to lean heavily on their strong home court advantage (34-7 in the Rose Garden) and their superior fourth quarter execution, namely Brandon Roy and his lullaby crossovers and mid-range jumpers. Roy is itching to blow up during this year's playoffs and truly establish a national rep for himself, but he won’t necessarily have to do it alone: Outlaw, Rudy, Blake and Aldridge have delivered in the clutch at various times this year.
A perhaps-overlooked matchup that might help determine the series is Aaron Brooks vs. Steve Blake. Blake gets abused by most playoff-quality point guards so drawing Brooks in the first round is a relative advantage for the Blazers. Despite the fact that Brooks will be able to get into the lane at will, he’s not Tony Parker, Chris Paul or Deron Williams. When your biggest question mark is at 1, it’s a good feeling knowing the opposing 1 is something of a question mark as well.
Although a little more than two weeks ago, I picked the Rockets to win any series with the Blazers, the team’s strong finish to the season that netted home court advantage has caused me to flip flop, treating my prediction like Nate treats back-up point guards ...
Blazers in 6.
The Dream Shake: It is an odd thing to be a Rockets fan right now. Certainly the loss in Dallas was depressing, but for the moment, I will put aside my dismay with our bracket position (the Lakers will be waiting for us if we advance) and focus purely on the Rockets and their opponent, the Trailblazers.
The general consensus of many Rockets fans like myself is that Portland poses a dangerous threat to nearly every Western Conference opponent ... with the exception of the Rockets. As far as positional match-ups go, the Rockets have nearly everything pointed in their favor.
Yao Ming struggles with one brand of center: a small, agile post player with a low center of gravity and quick feet. Luckily, Portland suits up two giant slow people in Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla. While Oden and the Pryz may be solid low-post defenders and great shot-blockers, they play the kind of old-school, post-on-post defense that Yao thrives against. No post player in the NBA has a better post move arsenal than the Ming Dynasty, and his will be on full display for the duration of the series.
Brandon Roy is one of the best young talents in The Association, but Houston has two shutdown defenders in Shane Battier and Ron Artest that serve as the perfect remedy for Roy. Remember, in the first meeting, Roy was guarded by an ailing Tracy McGrady, and was able to have a good game. This time around, he’s going to struggle with not one, but two premier perimeter defenders known collectively as "White Pills" rotating on and off of him. And whoever isn’t guarding Roy will be on Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez, as they warrant plenty of defensive attention as well. LaMarcus Aldridge has also been guarded well by Luis Scola and Carl Landry all season, and Kyle Lowry and Aaron Brooks should be able to match feet with Steve Blake and Jerryd Bayless, though I do have tremendous respect for both Blazer point guards.
To put it bluntly, the Rockets should not lose this series. We, the fans, absolutely need them to get out of the first round for the sake of our pride, our wallets, and our mental stability. Given the Rockets' favorable matchups and playoff experience, I think that Morey’s boys will be able to overcome the Blazers’ home court advantage and win a game in the Rose Garden. One win in Portland will be enough.
Rockets in 6.
Kelly Dwyer: This is a classic offense/defense showdown, and as is usually the case in these sorts of games, the squad that does the best job of succeeding in an area that they’re usually less successful at will win.
Throw in the fact that, while Houston’s defense might be pretty stifling most of the time, Portland has the NBA’s most-efficient offense. And though the Rockets are great defensively, they’re not the league’s best defense. That sort of mitigates any advantage Houston would have because the team’s offense is better than Portland’s defense. Sick of this? Just enjoy the series, it could be pretty special.
Blazers in 7.