First, I wanna say that I miss the preview threads. I know why they aren't necessary but I miss the pre-game discussions. I don't post a lot on the game thread because it distracts me from the game and with so many trolls lately finding something or someone worth responding to can take a bit of searching. Anyway, on to game 4... Here are my thoughts.
My opinion of neither team has changed much at all during this series. I was fairly confident that Houston would win in 5 or 6 games. Portland has hit some TOUGH shots to get in this position, so hats off to them but I think Houston is the more talented team. There are several reasons that Houston is down, I'll touch on them in a minute, but I prefer the foundation that Houston is built on over Portland. It seems that people think that LMA is some burgeoning NBA star, but he's essentially the same age as Dwight. Parsons and Batum are very similar players (Batum's ceiling may be higher, but he's yet to show any inclination dominate the game), and I'd rather have Harden than Lillard (Lillard seems to have better defensive instincts than Harden, if not more defensively talented, but finding a truly great 2 guard in the NBA is very difficult, there are almost 10 all star caliber pg's in the league. As is the case with LMA and Howard, Lillard is nearly the same age as Harden and Harden is a force of nature offensively (thought we haven't seen much of that this series)). Houston has a ton of flexibility going forward to build out from the Harden/Howard foundation, Portland, hypothetically, gets cap space the same time we do, but LMA will be a free agent, as will Matthews and Lopez. Once Houston sheds Lin and Asik's contracts, those players are clearing the books (Lin may take a pay cut to come back, but Asik is gone), and with the cap increasing and bird rights retained on Parsons, Houston could be a MAJOR player in free agency in a couple years and a great destination for free agents, assuming Howard continues to hold up. On to more pressing matters, the 3 things that I think will decide game 4...
Coaching. One thing that has defined the series so far is Portland's frankly stunning performance in the clutch. It stands in stark contrast to the very uninspiring offense we end up running (normally full of iso's and late shot clock shots). Also, generally, whenever Houston gets on a run, Stotts will call a timeout and they will almost immediately go on a run. I can't say the same for the Rockets after timeouts and I attribute that to quality coaching. We all know that Houston doesn't have the most complex offense in the world (our half court sets looked MUCH better last game), so it's not necessarily surprising that it can go flat for stretches. There are only so many ways to change the gameplan at this point, but McHale needs to be much quicker to change the focal point in our attack. The foundation of our attack is supposed to be the "random" play, but our random plays are fairly predictable and normally end up with a Harden iso or pick and roll. Vary the point of attack, attack where you think they are weak, and keep reminding the team to move in the half court. We have too many weapons for the ball to get "sticky" and it's one of McHale's responsibilities to do what he can to ensure ball movement.
Star Play. I'm a Harden fan. When he's on, there's almost no other force in basketball that is more unstoppable. With that said, he's not playing very well. I think Portland is getting in his head like OKC does. One of Harden's strengths is his court vision and his ability to size up the action and make relatively smart plays. He understands how to attack defenders and how to capitalize on the smallest of driving lanes better than most players but when he doesn't see those gaps his games becomes very one dimensional (spot up shooting). It's incumbent on the coaching staff to bend the defense and spread the floor enough for Harden to have room, but it's also on Harden to just play his game. Drive, Drive, Drive... If they are packing the paint then make the smart play with the ball. Stay aggressive and the shots will come. If Bev is the heart of the team, Howard the muscle, Parsons the glue, then Harden is the nervous system, everything works and is coordinated around him. (As an aside, I'd love to see Daniels get some play alongside Harden, he's the one Rocket that can really help space the floor and hit some open shots off Harden drives). Howard isn't going to get you 35 a night, so if he's hot, feed him but don't force it, keep the other players involved so if he cools off you don't go into a lull. Parsons is doing Parsons things, so he just needs to keep playing and make sure he stays in front of Batum on D. HIs shots will fall (if he's not just dirt tired from McHale's terrible minute management throughout the course of the season... that's for a different post though).
Bench Play. It has been said, repeatedly, that both Houston's and Portland's bench are terrible. There's no 2 ways about it, they are both bad. Last game we saw Mo Williams come to life and we saw Daniels hit the biggest shot of his life. Whether it's Daniels, Lin, or some player that hasn't seen the floor yet like a DMo, getting some type of contribution from the bench would be HUGE. The one failing of Morey for this team in particular is his inability to get a solid bench. It's totally understandable given the Dwight acquisition, but it's REALLY hurt the team down the stretch. Lin also needs to quit being a turnstile on defense. The guys that are seeing the floor are playing hard, and we should all appreciate that, but we need more than just effort to maintain the momentum our starters provide us.
Other things like officiating are out of our control. I still like our chances but tonight's game is HUGE. Tie the series up and regain homecourt. Lose tonight and the Blazers only have to win one of the next 3. No matter what though, it's been a blast Red Nation, lets hope for the Rockets in 6.
Feel free to post about anything that's gone on since the last gamethread in the comments below (Donald Sterling, Vince Carter, Memphis/OKC OT (can we trade for Reggie Jackson in the offseason?), Nene's suspension, etc), peace and enjoy your Sunday.