With the playoffs starting in just a few days, national media predictions for how the first rounds are going to play out are starting to make their way onto the internet.
Despite having the same record as the Rockets and being a last-second three-pointer away from splitting the season series 2-2, there are very few pundits picking the Trail Blazers to make it out of the first round, with many of the predictions picking Houston to win the series rather handily.
Below is a collection of predictions from around the web, which will be updated as more media outlets go on record with their predictions from the four/five matchup between the Blazers and Rockets, which tips off Sunday at 6:30 PM on KGW, TNT and 620 AM. Currently, four people have picked the Trail Blazers to win the series.
And if you’re so inclined, go ahead and put your predictions in the comments as well.
· Zach Lowe of Grantland.com picks the Rockets to win the series in five games …
Portland has other weapons — Wes Matthews is going to post the crap out of Harden, and the team’s expert offensive rebounding could hurt Houston, which goes through fits of laziness on the glass. But the Rockets should have enough on both ends to take this — provided Beverley is really ready to go.
Matt Moore of CBSSports.com has the Rockets taking the series in six games …
Offense. That’s the prediction. Lots and lots of offense, because neither of this teams defend well. Since All-Star Break, the Blazers have the 12th best defense in points per possession, but have struggled against the West playoff teams.
The Rockets aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts either, but they have mot in the way of playoff style personnel. Beverley should give Lillard problems and the Rockets will be able to get what they want offensively.
It should be an entertaining, wide open, and high-scoring series, but Portland’s defense and lack of home court eventually does them in.
· Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk has the Rockets winning the series in seven games …
The Trail Blazers slipped from their perch atop the Western Conference after a 31-9 start, but they’ve bounced back. Portland won its last five and nine of ten, providing momentum entering the playoffs. But the Rockets won the season series, 3-1, so they have homecourt advantage.
· NBA.com’s Fran Blinberry, who is based out of Houston, picks the Rockets to win in six games …
The statistics and the seedings say this should be a high-scoring, entertaining and evenly matched series. Both teams have a pair of All-Stars and both can fill up the basket. A healthy Howard is the difference-maker around the rim.
· The Yahoo! Sports “Ball Don’t Lie” crew of Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine and Eric Freeman all pick the Rockets to win the series. Dwyer goes with Houston in six games, while Devine and Freeman both have the Rockets in seven.
· Lee Jenkings, Rob Mahoney and Matt Dollinger, all of SI.com, pick the Rockets to win the series.
· ESPN.com has an excellent “5-on-5” roundtable with Henry Abbott, Tom Haberstroh, Rahat Huq, Danny Nowell and Ethan Sherwood Strauss in which all five pick the Rockets to win the series. Abbott, Nowell and Strauss pick the Rockets in seven games, while Haberstroh and Huq pick the Rockets in five.
· Of the 18 NBA experts ESPN.com has making picks, just three — Israel Gutierrez, Amin Elhassan and Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight.com — have the Trail Blazers winning the series versus the Rockets, with all three picking Portland to win in six games. Of the 15 who are picking the Rockets to win the series, six went with the Rockets in seven games, five had the Rockets winning in six games and four have the Rockets winning in five games. The four who are picking the Rockets in five often use advance stats heavily in their work.
· NBA TV’s Steve Smith and Stu Jackson both pick the Rockets to beat the Trail Blazers, although they don’t say in how many games. They also picked every team in the West with home court advantage to advance.
· Ben Golliver of SI.com picks the Rockets to win the series in six games …
Elite offense requires success behind the arc, at the rim and at the foul line, and the Rockets cover all of those bases better than the Blazers. During the postseason chess match, Houston looks to possess a deeper pool of offensive counters, and its primary options — Harden and Howard — should be the two best players on the court. Throw in Portland’s defense — which is inconsistent overall and has struggled to slow the Rockets’ stars — and Houston’s home-court advantage, and the Rockets should emerge from a very competitive series.
· Chris Mannix, also of SI.com, picks the Rockets to win in five games.
· Howard Beck and Rick Bucher of Bleacher Report both pick the Rockets to win the series, though they don’t say in how many games. Both Beck and Bucher also pick all of the top teams in the West to advance.
· It’s not exactly a prediction, but Paul Flannery at SBNation.com does a best case/worst case for the Blazers vs. the Rockets, with both hypotheticals going seven games …
Best Case: The Blazers win a seven-game series with Houston as LaMarcus Aldridge goes for 20 and 12 every night and each game is decided on a cold-blooded Damian Lillard three.
Worst Case: The Blazers lose a seven-game series with Houston as Dwight Howard keeps Aldridge in check and every game is decided by a Mo Williams three after Pat Beverley keeps the ball out of Lillard’s hands.
· Of the six writers making predictions for Basketball Insiders, only Alex Kennedy has the Trail Blazes beating the Rockets, doing so in seven games. The other votes are split between the Rockets in five (two votes), the Rockets in six (two votes) and the Rockets in seven (one vote).
When the Western Conference first round series between the Trail Blazers and Clippers started, many assumed it would be a quick affair, with the Clippers eventually moving on to face the Golden State Warriors in the second round. And after Warriors point guard Stephen Curry suffered a knee injury that will keep the reigning MVP sidelined for the start of the second round, much of the conversation revolved around how that would improve the Clippers’ chances of beating the defending champs in the Western Conference semifinals. The fact that the Clippers still had to beat the Trail Blazers two more times didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
A few days later, that narrative has flipped. Leading the series 3-2 with a chance to clinch in Game Six tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM), the Trail Blazers are now Golden State’s presumptive opponent, as injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have all but ended the Clippers’ playoff run.
But just as the Clippers still had to win four games to advance, so too do the Trail Blazers, which is a good reminder that there are no such thing as inevitability when it comes to sports. “That’s why the play the game,” might be trite, but it’s still as true as it ever was, something the Trail Blazers know as well as any team still alive in the postseason.
“We just go out there and play, we don’t really pay attention to what’s being said,” said CJ McCollum. “You can’t read into that too much. First we were supposed to get swept, first we were just happy to win a game, so you just go play. You don’t really worry about the other stuff, you just control what you can control, keep your mindset the same, understand that nothing is inevitable. You’ve got to go out there and play.”
Though the Trail Blazers were able to beat the Clippers 108-98 at Staples Center in Game Five sans Paul and Blake, a team led by JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers still managed to take a five-point lead into the half and had the game tied at 71-71 going into the fourth quarter, so it’s not as if any team, including Portland, can just roll the ball out in a playoff game and expect to emerge with the victory. After all, if that were the case, the Clippers would already be in Oakland preparing for the Western Conference semifinals.
“We understand that they’re a good team,” said McCollum “Regardless of what’s happened, regardless of what injuries they’ve gone through, they’re still a good team and we’ve still got to go play the game.”
And we’re back. After the Trail Blazers defeated a shorthanded Clippers team 109-98 in Game Five at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in the first round series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studios once again to deliver another playoff edition of the Rip City Report podcast. Please consider listening…
On this episode, Joe and I discuss the Trail Blazers being on the verge of winning just their second playoff series in the last 16 years, what we’re expecting to see during Game Six Friday in Portland, make our picks for the Trail Blazers’ MVP and most surprising during the first five games, how the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin change the narrative surrounding the series and answer some of your Twitter-submitted questions regarding Chris Kaman’s birthday, non-Moda Center places to watch Game Six, player playoff bonuses and give a few binge watching suggestions, not that you’d ever need to watch TV again with all these fine podcasts we’re providing for you.
After struggling in the first few games of their first round playoff series, the play of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Games Three, Four and Five has been one of the main reasons the Trail Blazers hold a 3-2 advantage versus the Clippers. Mason Plumlee has arguably been Portland’s most valuable player, and both Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless have delivered game-changing performances at times during the series, but the attention Lillard and McCollum draw from the Clippers’ defense has allowed for their teammates to have a chance to shine in the postseason. And despite L.A.’s defensive gameplan focusing almost exclusively on stopping Portland’s starting backcourt, Lillard and McCollum are combining to average just over 40 points a game during the 2016 playoffs.
Given that, and the fact that they even made the playoffs, let alone are a game away from winning Portland’s second playoff series in the last 15 years, TNT analyst Charles Barkley declared on last night’s edition of “Inside The NBA” that Portland’s backcourt is second only to Golden State’s, the team the Trail Blazers would face should they advance to the next round.