The teams are now 1-1 head-to-head this season, with both games being played in Portland. While it's easy to downplay the advantage of being at home, the truth is that in such a tough Western Conference, splitting the two road games against a top-tier opponent like Portland is a solid accomplishment.
The Blazers have broken out this season for several reasons, the most publicized being LaMarcus Aldridge's new-found mean streak. However, improved depth (mainly Robin Lopez, Mo Williams and Dorell Wright), the maturation of second-year point guard Damian Lillard, and Wesley Matthews' improved shooting stroke have also been instrumental to Portland's early-season success.
Despite last night's loss, I still believe that Houston would beat the Blazers in a seven-game series, which we could see in the first round (a very possible four-five matchup) or in the later rounds.
Here are the four main reasons why I believe Houston would pull out the potential playoff series:
1. Patrick Beverley's Ability to Disrupt Damian Lillard
A lot of people tend to discount Beverley for his lack of offensive statistics, but there's no doubt he's one of the peskiest and best on-ball defenders in the game. On Thursday night, Beverley held Lillard to just eight points on 1-10 shooting, his second lowest scoring game of the season.
Portland didn't need Lillard's offensive output Thursday night, but as the second-best player on the team, Lillard's offense will be needed come playoff time. If Beverley can take Lillard out of the game like he did Thursday night, Aldridge would be expected to carry too much of Portland's offensive workload, which would hinder the team's overall offensive abilities.
2. Terrence Jones' Defensive Improvement
Aldridge absolutely owned Jones last night, scoring 31 points and grabbing 25 rebounds, while Jones scored just 10 and grabbed just two boards. However, it's important to remember that Jones is just 21 years old, and has played in only 39 games in his NBA career. Over the course of this season, I believe Jones will improve dramatically, which will boost the Rockets from a playoff contender to a championship contender. Young players need to take all their early-career failings and learn from them, and the next time Jones faces Aldridge, I bet he puts up more of a fight.
3. Jeremy Lin's Health
Thursday night was Lin's first game back after missing about two weeks with a knee sprain. Lin played less than 15 minutes and scored just five points on 1-4 from the field. Williams, who plays a similar role for the Blazers as a sixth man and lead guard of the second unit, outscored Lin 13 to 5, but played about 10 minutes more.
Once Lin shakes the rust off and gets back into his rhythm, I believe he'll outperform Williams. Both players are gunslingers who have trouble on the defensive end, but Lin's abilities as a playmaker could be the reason why Houston's second unit gives Portland fits. By himself, Lin averages almost as many points per game (18.1) as Portland's top three reserves (Williams, Thomas Robinson and Wright combine to average 19.3 points), and as the season drags on, bench play will become more important for both squads.
4. James Harden's Success Against Portland
Harden has played six games against the Blazers in a Rockets uniform, and he's averaged 29.8 points, 6.3 assists and 6.5 rebounds against them. Thursday night, Harden scored 25 points, dished out seven assists, and grabbed six boards. He was relatively efficient from the field (8-18 FG) and committed just three turnovers. It seemed like Harden was doing his best to let the game come to him, which put the ball in his teammates hands a little too much down the stretch.
If these two teams were to go head to head in the playoffs, I believe Harden would take over the series with his scoring and playmaking. If Harden would have been a little more selfish Thursday night, I believe his penetration would have forced Terry Stotts to rethink his defensive scheme, which would have opened up the 3-point shot for Houston.
M. De Moor is a basketball enthusiast and a graduate of Montclair State University. He often wonders why left-handed shooters have such pretty shooting strokes.
- Sports & Recreation
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Houston Rockets
- Damian Lillard
- The Blazers
- Terrence Jones