To get ready for the Houston Rockets series against the Trail Blazers I went back and watched the season's first meeting of the two teams. Way back in early November the Rockets moved to a 4 - 1 record by winning a 116 - 101 game they never let go of.
77 games later it's extremely unlikely this playoff series will look anything like the game where James Harden and Dwight Howard combine for 54 points. Here's why:
The Howard-Asik pairing still existed. McHale wouldn't give up on the "Twin Towers" for a few more games. Against Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge the pairing didn't appear untenable - In reality most opponents don't have lineups as large.
Here's what you should know about the Howard-Asik pairing in this win against Portland:
With Howard on Lopez down low and Asik on Aldridge in the midrange the Blazers limited their own attempts at dribble penetration. They settled for jumpers instead. In this series I would expect a significant increase in moves to the basket by Lillard and company.
The Howard-Asik pairing caused Harden to settle for more midrange jump shots off of screens and pick and rolls. With only Howard in the game the offense looked much more like it does now.
With the Howard-Asik pairing on the floor Howard saw very limited post opportunities. When he did, Asik stood on the baseline rendered useless until a shot was taken.
The pairing has been employed very sparingly since Asik's return from injury. Don't expect to see much of it unless Aldrige or Lopez are killing us down low simultaneously. More likely, Lopez gets in foul trouble on Dwight and the workload falls on Aldridge's shoulders.
This lineup spent a decent amount of time on the court for Houston:
Patrick Beverley - James Harden - Francisco Garcia - Omri Casspi - Dwight Howard
I'll bet you a pallet of Lone Star that we won't see that lineup in this series. The first two players off the bench in this game were Garcia for Parsons and Beverley for Lin. Beverley was playing his first game back from a rib injury and returned to the starting lineup after this game. Here's some playtime you may be surprised to see 77 games later:
Francisco Garcia: 22:35
Omri Casspi: 23:48
Donatas Motiejunas: DNP
Terrence Jones: 1:01
Garcia was still riding high off the end of the 2012 - 2013 season. As we all know that didn't last long I think many TDSers would rather see Troy Daniels walk out on the court in this playoff series. Omri Casspi looked like he would fit in to the Rockets perfectly in this game. It hasn't worked out quite that way, I'd argue that's more indicative of Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons success and dependability than anything else.
Donatas Motiejunas didn't hit the rotation until after his big night against the Grizzlies. Terrence Jones had been slowed by some nagging injuries after the preseason, but also hadn't cracked the Rockets starting lineup yet.
In this game the Blazers refused to put a double team on Dwight Howard and he took full advantage in the post going for 29 points including 10 - 13 shooting. Dwight quickly put Lopez in foul trouble and then went right at Meyers Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge once the Howard-Asik pairing was pulled from the floor.
Harden faced several matchups but was primarily guarded by Wes Matthews. Harden abused the Blazers at the rim and missed only 2 two point shot attempts.
Nic Batum looked stellar in the first quarter of this game. So good in fact I almost pulled the trigger on a proposed fantasy basketball trade. He disappeared in the second half and failed to make an impression against the Rockets on the whole this year. By contrast he averaged 25ppg against the Rockets in the 2012 - 2013 season.
Those are my thoughts on the first matchup between the Rockets and TrailBlazers from this season and what type of snapshot it is 77 games later.
Conclusion: The more Meyers Leonard the better.