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Simmons: ‘I don’t think Houston can beat Portland if Beverley’s not healthy’

Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe, both of Grantland.com, talk NBA playoffs for over an hour on Friday’s edition of The BS Report. The conversation eventually turns to the first-round series between the Trail Blazers and Rockets. Lowe, who has picked the Rockets to win in five games, doesn’t have a whole lot of complimentary things to say about the Blazers, stating that the Blazers are the team every other Western Conference team wanted to play and that Robin Lopez has “no shot” against Dwight Howard.

But Simmons isn’t so sure. The Sports Guy goes so far as to say that he doesn’t think the Rockets can win if Patrick Beverley isn’t healthy, wonders how Houston is going to stop LaMarcus Aldridge and calls Damian Lillard one of the “toughest guys in the league.” He also predicts the series goes seven, though he never says which team he thinks will win, and that Lillard and Beverley will come to fisticuffs before it’s over. There’s also discussion of how Wesley Matthews might attack James Harden, the issues for Lillard and Jeremy Lin on defense

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(The segment pertaining to Trail Blazers vs. Rockets starts around the 15:45 mark)

Bill Simmons: I want to go back to Houston one second. Van Gundy picked them to win the title.

Zach Lowe: It doesn’t surprise me. Houston, if you’re going to make an out of the box championship pick, Houston is the best possible pick. And I think Golden State would have been the best possible pick had Bogut been healthy but he’s not. And I think Houston, they have the profile and they put together about a 35-game stretch where they really had the profile of a championship contender. And then Beverley got hurt and Howard started missing games and they sort of were just there for the last 15 games of the season.

They have two stars, they have a decent defense on the right night, sometimes a very good defense sometimes a bad one, and an explosive offense. And they got — I don’t mean to demean Portland because they’re a good team — they got the team that everyone in the West wanted to play in the first round and they were 4-0 against San Antonio. If you’re going out of the box — I don’t even think Houston is that far out of the box — but if we assume that they are that’s the smart pick.

Simmons: The part everyone forgets about the playoffs is you only have to play well four times. So, you look at Indiana and be like, well, Indiana’s been a .500 team the last two months. That’s true, but in the playoffs if you’re .500 that means you have Game 7 at home if you’re Indiana. You can go .500 in the playoffs.

Lowe: This is the Heat the last two years. They played well four times every series and that’s all they need.

Simmons: We’ve talked about Houston before and how dangerous they can be in a series. They have the one James Harden game where he scores 48, they have the one Chandler Parsons game where he makes nine threes, they have the one huge Dwight Howard game when he has the 30-20 and that’s three wins.

I worry that they’re going to be healthy enough, cause Howard really hasn’t been totally Howard since that little stretch they had where they knocked off the three contenders in a row then he got his butt kicked by Joakim Noah and that whole thing. We haven’t really seen him unleash holy hell for about two straight weeks in a couple months. Did we ever figure out how Beverley came back so fast? Are we sure he’s 100 percent?

Lowe: We’re not, and he has to be. In this series with Portland, with Lillard going around those pick and rolls where he needs just the smallest sliver of daylight to launch a three and with all the shooters around him. This round and beyond they need Beverley and they need Howard this round badly because Howard — I wrote about this in my preview — he just absolutely destroys Robin Lopez. Robin Lopez has no shot against a healthy Dwight Howard. He shot like 60 percent in the post, just obliterated Robin Lopez. If they are healthy, that’s the key to the series for me.

We don’t know how healthy Amir Johnson is for the Raptors and he’s a crucial player for them. All these sort of late-season injuries, it’s hard to tell sometimes how much is an injury and how much is, okay, he’s recovered but we’re just going to sit him out because the game don’t really mean anything anymore.

Simmons: Controversial opinion: I don’t think Houston can beat Portland if Beverley’s not healthy, because for two reasons. One, he’s really their only guys on the perimeter who can guard anyone. And two, I think he’s kind of the key guys for them from a toughness standpoint and they feed off him. If he’s not right, I think that’s really going to effect them. It puts a lot of pressure on Jeremy Lin.

Oh, by the way, Jeremy Lin versus Damian Lillard might be the all-time “nobody can guard nobody” matchup. Everybody just clear out of the way and let guys get layups if that happens.

Lowe: Unless we get a couple of random cross matches where Harden is guarding Lillard. Then the universe might implode on itself. By the way, any time you have, during one season, like three YouTube compilations of your horrible defense become viral, you know that you’ve had a bad defensive season.

Simmons: I really feel like Harden was ruined psychologically by trying to guard LeBron in that Finals and it effected his offense and then he was like “Ah, you know what? Everyone has to make choices in life and I’m making mine now. I’m an offensive player. I will never try that hard on defense again. I’m just not doing it.” But in this series he’s not going to really have to guard anybody. It’s a nice matchup for him.

Lowe: I will say this: Wes Matthews is going to take him to the block.

Simmons: He should!

Lowe: I was watching film of their games the other day and I’ve talked to Wes about his post game. He goes after Harden, to the point that they may put Parsons on him for some of the series so Harden can take Batum. Wes is going to make him bang down there.

Simmons: My predictions are always wrong: I predict that this series goes seven. I just feel this series to me reeks of seven. It stinks of seven. I can just feel it. If Howard isn’t right I think Portland can win. I don’t think this is a slam dunk by any means. I think this is actually a pretty good matchup, for the most part, for Portland except for what you mentioned, that Robin Lopez against Howard.

One of these, I remember like in, I’m going to say in December, these two teams played on a Thursday night game and I remember Aldridge really took it to Houston. I do wonder, like, that’s another interesting part, if Howard isn’t right. He’s really the only guy on that team that can guard Aldridge. So, you know, if he’s not right then all the sudden you’re looking at Motiejūnas and people like that. That’s not going to be good. I guess they could bring Asik in but then, the Asik/Howard combo, they’ve had such limited success with it. Do you think they’ll starting playing  them in the playoffs or do you think they’ve just given up on it?

Lowe: I think they’ve mostly given up on it but — we’ve talked about this before — I do think there will be a situation where we see it. They’re on the opposite side of the bracket from Memphis so that’s not going to happen probably, but Asik will get some time in this series on LaMarcus Aldridge. And then that game you’re mentioning was primarily LaMarcus Aldridge going crazy on Terrence Jones late in the game, to the point that they had to switch Howard onto LaMarcus Aldridge. I think we’re going to see that switch sooner in this series because Terrence Jones just isn’t big enough.

But Howard has done well against Aldridge. The downside of that is it takes Dwight away from the rim on pick and rolls and all those other plays that LaMarcus Aldridge is in. That is interesting. You’d rather have Dwight near the rim for obvious reasons, but if that becomes untenable, how long do you stick with Terrence Jones?  And they played at least once after Aldridge came back from, what did he have, a groin injury and then he fell on his back, they played at least once since then and Aldridge wasn’t quite himself and they were like “We don’t give a crap who is covering you. We’re leaving you one-on-one.” Chandler Parsons, one-on-one. James Harden, one-one-one. They let Harden guard him one-on-one a couple of times and they just let him do whatever he wanted to do. We’ll see if they change that of if they’re sort of going to let LaMarcus get his.

Simmons:  There’s two possibilities for a massive fight in Round 1. The first one is Steven Adams against anybody on Memphis, probably Zach Randolph … But then the other one, obviously, Beverly and Damian Lillard, at some point, those guys, that’s just going to be like, the streams are going to cross and it’s not going to be pretty. Cause Lillard is one of the secretly toughest guys in the league. He doesn’t take anything from anybody. And Beverley knows that and he’s going to trying to get into his head the whole series and at some point somebody is getting mad at somebody.

Lowe: They’ve exchanged some trash talk, have they not, this year? Wasn’t there some verbal back and forth the two of them had? I can’t remember what the particulars were but they definitely did.

Simmons:  Yeah, something is going to happen.

(SNIP)

Simmons:  Talking about Lillard for a second though, I think every playoffs, somebody makes the leap, right? It’s always a younger player on a big stage, he comes through, everybody gets really excited, kind of a breakthrough moment. I think Steph Curry is a great example last year where he was one one level going into the playoffs, jumped a level when he got to the playoffs and put himself just in a different place. I would say that two big candidates this year for this are Damian Lillard and John Wall. Who am I missing?

Lowe: I was going to say Wall. DeRozen and Lowry with the Raptors, although Lowry is sort of a veteran so maybe he doesn’t fit