Hey Rockets fans!
I posted this a couple of days ago on Blazers Edge, and it got some good response, so I figured before Game 1 starts tonight, I'd re-post this over here before it's completely irrellevant. Arguments regarding the relevancy pre-post are expected.
Whatever happens tonight, I expect a great series. Clean too. Both teams have classy coaches, who run their teams well. Different styles, but great coaching both ways.
Aaron Brooks, 2nd year.
Aaron Brooks, as we probably all know from his Duck Days, is very fast. Very, very fast. It's the kind of quickness that has troubled Portland point guards the entire season. He only shoots 40% from the floor though, which isn't terribly sexy, but he's been good for the odd 20 or even a 30 point game this year. In a seven game series, he might be the one to watch out for if Rick Adleman can develop a system for him. Don't put it past him.
Steve Blake, 7th year.
Blake "played" in four playoff games for the Washington Wizards, and started all five games for the Nuggets in '06-'07. Not too much playoff experience, but that shouldn't matter when he goes against the second season Brooks. Seven seasons is a lot to play in the NBA, and Blake has won at every level he's been at. He plays smart basketball. If the Blazers are a really great drink (whicch they are) and Roy and Aldridge are the alcohol, Blake is the soda, or the tonic or the what have you. It might not be sexy, but you need it to make the drink work.
I personally think that the Blazer's Drink would be called something like a "Swan Island Ice Tea." Far too many alcohols in one place, and it hits you like a lemon-wrapped basketball. Just like the Blazers have far too many good players for decency's sake. Fortunately I like indecency.
Lowry is no slouch. He's done well in 20 minutes a game, averaging 7.5 points and 3.6 assists. 2.4 rebounds too, which is spectacular for a backup pointguard. Sergio, though, has shown he's on the verge of putting it together. Against the Nuggets he played through the Andersen "block" and came back for a couple of fairly easy layups. Then the lanes started to open as other players came to help out, leading to 12 assists in 18 minutes. Not too shabby. No one on the Blazers sees the floor as well as Go Go. Right now it is a bit like watching a young quarterback. He has his go-to recievers, his favorite targets, but the other teams have scouted them, and he needs to learn to see the whole field.
If Bayless gets a lot of minutes in this series, it's going to be a blowout.
(since I posted this, I've noticed Brooks has become a poular choice around the internet as the Wildcard of the series)
Brandon Roy, 3rd year.
Brandon Roy elevated his game this year.
I'll state that again, because it bears repeating: Brandon Roy absolutely went bat-fart crazy this year. I like the analogy I read at Hollinger (there've been a few fanposts about this) that it's much easier to go from 31 to 41 wins than from 41 to 51. Just like it's easier for a decent starter to get into a great system and blossom into an All-Star than for an All-Star to blossom into a superstar. Brandon Roy has played through torn ligaments in his pinky, knees that needed fluid drained, a sore back, and probably injuries we never knew about despite this lovely fishbowl we seem to be living in here. I also think that Roy's lack of playoff experience isn't going to be that much of a problem, given the way he plays Brandonball, and seems to want what he gets almost every time.
Shane Battier, 7th year.
Battier is a little bit off his normal pace this year, but don't underestimate him. He's harrassed Brandon in the past. I think that he's exploitable in a seven game series. Roy is a very smart player, and in an extended run against the same player, I think Roy will prosper more than Battier. Defense is the hardest thing in any sport, except maybe in Curling, and though Battier is an excellent defender, Brandon just has too many moves to contain for long.
Nuff said if you're a Blazer fan, really.
Nicolas Batum, Rookie.
Nicolas is wonderful. Like the chocolate sprinkles on the whipped cream on the hot chocolate wonderful. You know it's just a bit too much to have all that, PLUS the sprinkles, but do you really care? I didn't think so. As nice as he is, he is still a rookie, and this is the NBA playoffs against a team that has a LOT of playoff experience.
Ron Artest, 9th year.
Ron Artest is, well. Ron Artest. There's really no one else like him in the game. I guess since Dennis Rodman maybe? His defense is intense, and in your face. Fortunately he's not really a spectacular shooter, and he will have off nights. He usually makes up for those off nights by being extra intense, which is sort of like watching a really scary horror flick while actually being chased by an axe wielding madman. He's going to be tough for all seven games (if it goes that far.)
Bench Forwards (Power and Small, because both teams multi-task):
Travis has been playing very well the last few games. He was even spotted passing the ball the last couple of games! Of course, these might have just been VERY VERY bad shots, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Outlaw also happens to be a freakish athlete who can also play the Power Forward position. People should not underestimate how valuable it was for him to get that experience the last few years.
Carl Landry is a Second year man who was drafted in the second round, and is now averaging very repectable stats. Can anyone say chip on his shoulder? It's a tossup here, maybe an edge to Outlaw given his six years and freakish atleticism.
Hayes is a different beast. He's actually a great post defender, and plays better than his stats would indicate. Much like Nic Batum actually. He could be very big for the Rockets.
As much as the Blazer fans seem to love to hate Channing, I think he can take those guys.
LaMarcus Aldridge, 3rd year.
LMA has been one of the top 6 Power Forwards in the NBA this last month. He's been outrunning his man downcourt on both offense and defense, has displayed quick hands in the passing lanes early in the opponent's shot clock, and shown a newfound love of paint. Maybe we should all send him a can of paint just to remind him. Who's with me?
Luis Scola, 2nd year.
Normally, I'd say any sophomore power forward versus LaMarcus and I'd say bring it. Luis Scola... I still say bring it. You fly around the court barely in control, scoring, tipping, scrapping. If you were on my team, I'd probably find a way to root for you. But right now I hope that Aldridge smashes you into a gooey unidentifiable paste.
That's not to say he's not a good player, he's just fine. He just seems to be playing the game as if it's faster than it really is, like a lot of second year guys do.
Ah, now the big one. Yao versus Joel and Oden. That's a lot of human being right there. Let's see: Yao 7' 6" plus Przy 7' 1" and Oden 7' 0"... that's 28 feet of person. Now, Yao's significant size advantage alone is normally enough for him to overcome a team with a weaker Center Corps. But the Blazers boast two people who could arguably start on more than half the teams in the league. Come to think of it, outside of Houston, Orlando and Phoenix, can you think of a single team that wouldn't start either one of these guys?
Yao Ming, 6th year.
Yao is a force unique in the NBA. He is the first "supercenter" that actually worked out (remember Shawn Bradley?) He is one huge dude. He shoots 54% from the floor, 86% from the line, and 9.9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. He might not be the greatest defender in the paint, but he doesn't have to be most of the time. His sheer size allows him to pluck basketballs from the air like plums from a tree. He seems to have trouble sometimes against Joel though. And when he misses his first few shots, he seems to turtle a lot. Most of this series could come down to how he's handled.
Joel Przybilla, 8th year.
The only other Blazer in the rotation with any playoff experience. And not really all that much of it at that. Joel has come into his own, however, and is playing with a wonderful chemistry with the other starters (much like Nicolas Batum). His offense is subpar, though that might be masked a little because the Blazers seldom utilize him in that capacity. He does have his moments though. His best trait, in my opinion, is the way he truly uses his feet to play defense and not his hands. It's actually quite remarkable. I think that it's a combination of Maurice Lucas (get well soon!) and Theo Ratliff's time with him. A lot of people forget about Theo, but Joel has credited him in the past with teaching him to let the driver come to him, rather than rush out and get the cheap foul. I think he's teaching Greg the same thing lately. Or maybe the lesson is starting to sink in. The league should tremble at those words.
A 50 year old guy versus a guy who looks like he's 50.
I do want to give Greg the edge here, and maybe I should given the way he seems to have found the Spanish Connection to his liking the last few games. Anyone else notice he and Rudy seem to have something going on? Maybe it's because both Rudy and Sergio have experience with legit 7-footers in Marc and Pau Gasol? However, Mutumbo is a wily vet with a huge resume. I think this is a great matchup for Oden, and in a seven game series (much like Brandon) he could become an absolute beast.
I think the Blazers can win two at home to start, even with Adleman and his playoff adjustments. The road will be difficult, but if the Blazers can steal just one, they are in a great position. The Rockets are all in-your-face style defenders which have given us trouble at times this season. However, the Blazers are BLAZING hot right now, having just torched the Nugs means they've now won 10 of their last 11. Given the stakes and the level of competition, that's very, very good.
Blazers in 5.
Before you get all up-in-arms, the only reason I go with 5 and not 7 is the unbalanced schedule. The Blazers play H, H, A, A, H, A, H. Not the more traditional H, H, A, A, A, H, H. I think this favors the Blazers in a short series. So if the series is decided Game 5, it will be a Blazer win. If the series is decided Game 7, Blazer win. Anything else is a total tossup.