And so it begins. The #NewAge Rockets have finished their 82 game gauntlet and now look forward at their first round playoff opponent, the Portland Trailblazers. So what can we expect from this series that matches the 4th and 5th seed juggernauts against one another?
Think they’re still mad about 1984? The NBA draft that produced Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Sam Perkins, Otis Thorpe, Kevin Willis, John Stockton (bit of a bitch if you ask me), and wait for it…. Sam Bowie. The Rockets won a coin toss in 84′ that granted them the number one overall pick, and the Blazers the second overall. Famously, the Rockets chose Olajuwon and the Blazers already having Clyde “thats a point of emphasis for the league this year” Drexler, broke Daryl Morey’s first rule of selection–don’t draft for need– and picked the next best center prospect Sam Bowie. Skipping over all of the talent mentioned above. Amazing how a coin toss can alter the course of history.
The 2014 Houston Rockets hope to make some history of their own as they march towards the Finals and turn Jeff Van Gundy into a prophet.
As a Rockets fan the playoff bracket could not have set up much better for us.
Houston sets up on the Spurs’ side of the bracket. Meaning that the first two rounds most likely pit the Rockets up against teams that they matchup with favorably. The road to the Finals will probably still go through LA or OKC but the Western Conference Finals is a perfectly attainable goal. Also apparently there is an Eastern Conference?! Maybe the NBA will stage an exhibition for their “champion” to play the Suns or something. Most likely held in Bangladesh or some “growing the brand” location.
But before I start thinking about how Houston matches up with the Spurs, lets deal with the matter at hand, the Portland Trailblazers.
These two have matched up 4 times this year so lets take a look at the outcomes and see what the keys to the series might be. What you’ll see below is the averaged statistics from the four regular season matchups between these two teams. (Click on image to enlarge)
Keys to the Series
So what can we take away from the graphic? The Rockets big three have all played pretty well against the Blazers and Houston has never lost a playoff series to Portland. Side note, this does not mean they are due by the way. The correct interpretation is that domination will continue.
When I was examining the respective games there was one thing that jumped off the screen each time. The rebounding battle. In the two easy wins the Rockets had, they handily won the rebounding battle by about 20. In the loss, and the near loss that Harden sprinkled his beard dust on and magically pulled out the win, we lost the rebound battle; although not nearly by the same margin. The number of rebounds a team collects is difficult to assert a value because in order for there to be rebounds, there must be missed shots. Allowing offensive rebounds is something of a vice for the Rockets and we’ll need a big performance from the bigs if we are going to take down some big wins. The Zoltar machine said so.
As I will flesh out later in the matchups, the bench play is going to be another major piece in a Rockets series victory. Portland’s biggest weakness is depth. If one of their starters gets into foul trouble or goes down, things turn desperate for them quickly. With the exception of Mo Williams they don’t really have NBA caliber players to spell the starters so the depth the Rockets boast needs to shine during these short rest periods. If Jeremy Lin and company can’t outplay Portland’s bench the Rocket starters are going to be on life support by the end of the series. If you think McHale over plays starters in the regular season, just wait till the weight of the post season rests upon his mind.
The Trailblazers also have a below .500 record against teams that have a record above .500. Stats such as these have been the ammo that national pundits have used to fill Portland’s success with a few holes. In fact for most of the year everyone has been waiting for the Blazers to regress to the mean and play the average basketball that was expected of them. To their credit, Portland defied the odds and other than a brief stretch, has continued to play a high quality of ball. That being said, there is a lot of quality in the West and in my opinion, their hot start inflated their seeding. They are not in the same tier of team as Houston and the rest of the top four so hopefully the Rockets handle them as such.
Also LaMarcus Aldridge is going to go HAM, so I advise that you start building up your tolerance to difficult shots that he makes look easy, or you could be risking a meltdown.
TO THE MATCHUPS!