After missing the playoffs for the last two season, the Portland Trail Blazers return to the postseason Sunday night in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round matchup against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center (tipoff scheduled for 6:30 PM on KGW, TNT and 620 AM). Portland will try to advance past for the first round for the first time since 2000 while also trying to get their first playoff series win against the Rockets in franchise history.
Game 1 – Sunday April 20 Portland at Houston 6:30PM TNT, KGW, 620 AM
Game 2 – Wednesday April 23 Portland at Houston 6:30PM TNT, KGW, 620 AM
Game 3 – Friday April 25 Houston at Portland 7:30PM ESPN, KGW, 620 AM
Game 4 – Sunday April 27 Houston at Portland 6:30PM TNT, KGW, 620 AM
Game 5 * Wednesday April 30 Portland at Houston TBD
Game 6 * Friday May 2 Houston at Portland TBD
Game 7 * Sunday May 4 Portland at Houston TBD
* Games 5, 6 and 7 will be scheduled as necessary.
“I’ve played against him enough to know what he’s good at. He’s a good defender, he does what he does well and he’s a huge part of their team. But I’ve got to focus on what I need to do to help my team. I’ll just be focusing on what I can do to help my team.”
“I never try to do too much. I’m just going to be myself. I’m not going to go out and try to do anything differently than what I usually do.”
Lillard shot 11 of 21 from the field (52 percent) and 5 of 10 (50 percent) from three while being guarded by Beverley during the regular season.
“I watch the game, I study the game, I watch everybody’s games. James and I have had plenty of battles. There’s not really anything that is going to surprise me. I think I’ve seen it all. I’ll start watching a little bit of what I did against him, what other guys did against him, guys who I deem as quality wing defenders and just see. But it’s going to be completely different from what I’ve seen on film when the game starts.”
“I’ve been wrote off my whole life, that doesn’t mean anything. They can take that matchup. He’s key. He’s the main guy, he’s the focus on that team. I have a major responsibility on both ends of the court. But I’ve had that all year, that doesn’t change for me. Just because it’s the playoffs, my job doesn’t chance, it’s just what I’ve always been doing and what I’ve always known.”
Matthews shot 9 of 24 from the field (38 percent) and 4 of 12 from three (33 percent) while being guarded by Harden this season. Conversely, Harden shot 11 of 19 from the field (58 percent) and 5 of 9 from three (56 percent) while being guarded by Matthews. Matthews also fouled Harden 10 times compared to Harden fouling Matthews just twice in the four-game regular season series.
“It’s going to be huge. I think it’s going to be huge because we all know they’ve got James Harden and Dwight (Howard) but he’s having a great season, too. People don’t really talk about him. He’s having a great season so it’s going to be huge for me to try to stop him.”
“We’re like the third option, both the third option, so we’re kind of similar, maybe … Some teams are so focused on Dwight and James Harden that sometimes he has freedom to do other things. That’s the same.”
Even those Parsons nearly put up a triple-double in Houston’s 126-113 victory versus the Blazers on Jan. 20, Batum has generally held the Rockets starting small forward in check. Parsons shot 8 of 22 from the field (36 percent) and 2 of 7 from three (29 percent) when being guarded by Batum this season.
“We don’t know because one game they doubled — they put Terrence in front of me and they put Dwight behind be and left RoLo open. Then one game they fronted with Dwight a couple times, which was kind of weird. They definitely have done different things on me, so we’re just watching film and trying to be ready for anything.”
“I don’t think it’s surprising anymore. I think I know what to look forward to, just watching film and seeing where my shots came from. Just trying to master my shots and go from there.”
“There’s not a lot of guys I can’t pull my punches against, I can be very physical with him. That’s something that I don’t always get to do. I embrace that.”
“Any time you get to play against one of the best players in the world, that’s something that’s fun … It’s a challenge. If I can slow him down a little bit, that’s a lot of help for my teammates, providing help defense in a different way.”
Lopez comported himself well defending Howard this season, holding the All-Star center to 17 of 32 shooting from the field (53 percent). However, Lopez did foul Howard 10 times in just under 30 minutes defending Houston’s big man.
“We can bring energy and just go in there and either keep the lead or try to make it go up. So our job is to come in and change the game in a positive way … I’m going to come in and do what I do: play fast, get up and down in transition, defend hard and do whatever I can do to make play … It’s the highest level of basketball. You always dream of going to the playoffs and trying to compete for a World Championship. I’ve very excited and very fortunate to be in this position.” — Will Barton
“I’m not saying we have an advantage (against Houston’s bench), say we’re going to come out there and beat them. I’m saying we’re going to come out there and try to out-work them and out-play them. I don’t have any doubt in me or the rest of the players that’s coming off the bench with me versus Houston .. The bench play has been good for the past month or so and rolling into the playoffs, everything is clicking right now.” — Thomas Robinson
Points per game: Trail Blazers 106.7 (4th), Rockets 107 (2nd)
Points against per game: Trail Blazers 102.8 (22nd), Rockets 103.1 (23rd)
Point differential: Trail Blazers +3.9 (8th), Rockets +4.6 (4th)
Field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 45 percent (15th), Rockets 47 percent (7th)
Three-point field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 37 percent (7th), Rockets 36 percent (15ht)
Opponent field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 45 percent (11th), Rockets 44 percent (7th)
Rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 46.4 (1st), Rockets 45.3 (4th)
Offensive rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 12.5 (2nd), Rockets 11.2 (15th)
Turnovers per game: Trail Blazers 13.3 (6th), Rockets 15.4 (28th)
Offensive rating: Trail Blazers 108.3 (5th), Rockets 108.6 (4th)
Defensive rating: Trail Blazers 104.7 (16th), Rockets 103.1 (12th)
Net rating: Trail Blazers +3.5 (8th), Rockets +5.5 (5th)
The Rockets won the series 3-1 this season, with the Blazers’ only victory being a 111-104 decision on December 12, 2013.
November 5, 2013 in Portland: Rockets 116, Trail Blazers 101 …
The Rockets, one of the most disciplined teams in the NBA when it comes to shot selection, outscored the Trail Blazers 54-28 in the paint and 19-6 on fastbreak points.
“They’re very specific in what they do,” said Stotts. “They shoot threes and they get to the paint. Guys like Harden get to the rim, get to the paint. Lin gets to the rim, gets to the paint. Obviously Howard was 10 for 13 and I don’t think he took anything outside the paint. That’s their style of play and then you throw in transition which is usually paint points, that’s part of what they do. That being said, I think we need to do a better job of defending the paint. We’re one of the bottom teams right now (in opponents points in the paint). We’ve been defending the three well, but we’ve got to do a better job of defending the rim and defending the paint.”
Portland trailed by just five going into the intermission but the game turned early in the second half when Robin Lopez was assessed his fourth foul with 11:11 to to play in the third quarter. From that point, the Rockets would go on a 17-4 run to take control.
“We passed up a lot of shots in the third quarter,” said Wesley Matthews, who finished the game with 19 points, three rebounds and a steal while committing four fouls trying to slow down Harden. “We were trying to maybe do too much, a little too unselfish. Coach has a thing where he keeps saying, ‘Keep playing. Keep playing. Keep playing.’ Plays were made and we’re supposed to shoot it and we didn’t shoot it. I know I turned down some, Nic turned down some. There’s still two ends of the court and we didn’t make many stops on that end.”
Portland would make numerous runs late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, cutting the lead to five with 8:11 to play after a Mo Williams 20-footer, but they would get no closer than that, ultimately losing by a 15-point margin.
December 12, 2013 in Portland: Trail Blazers 111, Rockets 104 …
After going one of six from the field in the first quarter, Aldridge finished with 31 points, a career-high 25 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks as the Trail Blazers defeated the Rockets 111-104 for their 19th victory of the season in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,997. Their 19-4 record is the best 23-game start to a season in Portland since the 1990-91 team opened the season going 21-2.
“Obviously, L.A. was fantastic,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “He was just doing everything. The game was coming to him – big rebounds, big shots, kicked it out of the post when he needed to. He was terrific.”
Aldridge became the first player in franchise history to score at least 30 points and pull down at least 25 rebounds and joins Bill Walton, Mychal Thompson and Sydney Wicks at the only Trail Blazers to log at least four 30-point, 20-rebound games. He is the first player to record a 30-point, 25-rebound performance since Kevin Love on Nov. 12, 2010 and is the first player to finish with at least 30 points, 25 rebounds and two blocks since Chris Webber in 2001.
The Trail Blazers and the Rockets were ranked first and second in the NBA, respectively, in offensive rating, though you wouldn’t have known it watching the first half of Thursday night’s contest at the Moda Center, with the Rockets taking a 44-43 lead into the intermission.
“To be honest, I thought our offense was good in the first half, we just didn’t finish at the rim and we had some open looks,” said Stotts. “I thought we had a lot of really good opportunities in the first half that we didn’t finish.”
Both teams would return to form in the second half and Aldridge, in particular, would elevate his game to an MVP-caliber level, scoring 23 of his 31 points in after the halftime break.
“I just watched film over there on the bench,” said Aldridge of what he did to improve after a rough first quarter. “I was rushing my shots, it was coming too easy, I was trying to go too fast. Second quarter, I just slowed down.”
January 20, 2014 in Houston: Rockets 126, Trail Blazers 113 …
Lead by Chandler Parsons, the Rockets would go on to outscore the Trail Blazers 39-28 in the first quarter thanks to 74 percent shooting (17 of 23) from the field and 100 percent shooting (four of four) from three.
“We let them play like they want to play right from the start, no energy,” said Nicolas Batum. “I think they scored like 20 points after five minutes. We’re on the road, it’s third game in four days, we’re going to be tired, so we can’t let a team like the Houston Rockets play right from the start because it’s going to be tough for us to get back.”
Things didn’t improve much in the second quarter. While Houston cooled a bit from the field, they still managed to hit six of nine three-pointers, with most of those coming from the corners thank to the inside-out opportunities afford by having Dwight Howard on the floor.
“We did give up too many corner threes,” said Stotts. “I think in the first half they were six for seven or something like that. The disappointing thing from a defense standpoint is you know going into it that you have to limit their transition, you have to limit their threes and we didn’t do a good job of that or they did a good job, however you want to look at it.”
And with the Trail Blazers hitting just one of their five three-point attempts, the stage was set for the Rockets to take a 15-point lead into the halftime intermission.
The Trail Blazers have been particularly good in third quarters this season, as they are statistically the second-best team in the NBA in regards to net rating in the second half of games. And for a while, it looked as though they might live up to their reputation after a 19-5 run, capped by a Wesley Matthews three-pointer with 5:05 to play in the third quarter, cut the lead to six. But the Rockets would answer back with a 20-11 run of their own to end the quarter, persevering their 15-point lead going into the fourth.
“We got close and we just couldn’t get over that hump,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “Our shots didn’t fall for us and they made tough shots and were able to get the win. We definitely didn’t make shots tonight and that was tough. We have to take care of tendencies better. They started off feeling comfortable and just ran with it. We have to make sure the other teams don’t feel that comfortable early.”
March 9, 2014 in Houston: Rockets 118, Trail Blazers 113 in overtime …
The Trail Blazers would go for over six minutes in the fourth without a field goal, though they did earn four trips to the free throw line during that stretch, Unfortunately, they shot 5 of 8 from the line during that stretch, opening the door up just enough for the Rockets to take their first lead of the night after a Jeremy Lin three-pointer with 1:25 to play in regulation put the home team up 102-101.
Lillard would score on the ensuing possession. Matthews would be the next player to score, hitting two free throws with 19 seconds to play in regulation to put Portland up three.
Lin would then earn a trip to the line, hitting one of two, to cut Portland’s lead to two. Matthews was fouled by Patrick Beverley on the ensuing possession, sending Matthews to the line with 12 seconds to play and a chance to make it a two-possession game. But Matthews would miss his only free throw of the night on the second attempt, which left the door open for the Rockets to tie.
And Houston did just that. Despite great defense from Matthews, Harden was able to connect on a three-pointer from the corner in front of Portland’s bench to tied the game with eight seconds to play.
Portland had one more chance to win the game in regulation after calling a timeout to advance the ball to halfcourt. Batum tried to find Lillard for a lob, but Lin made a play on the ball for the steal.
“Damian was coming wide open,” said Stotts of Portland’s last offensive play of regulation. “Jeremy Lin made a really good read, he left Mo open in the corner. Damian broke open, it was just Jeremy Lin made a really good read on it.”
After the steal, Lin got the ball to Beverley, whose last-second attempt rimmed out to send the game to overtime.
The Trail Blazers would draw first blood in the overtime on a Lillard three-pointer, but Portland would net just one more field goal in the overtime period while the Rockets get buckets from Lin, Harden and Chandler Parson to take the lead and eventually the game.
All stats provided by NBA.com/stats