The NBA’s regular season concluded Wednesday night, which saw the Portland Trail Blazers tough out a 6-point win against the LA Clippers. Both teams decided to rest key players in preparation for the playoffs.
The game didn’t mean a whole lot to the Blazers. Going into Wednesday night’s game, Portland was guaranteed the five seed in the West and will play the four seed Houston in the first round. Both teams finished with the same records, but Houston owns the tie-breaker with a 3-1 regular season series victory over Portland.
Not getting the four seed is disappointing. Home court advantage for this series would have been an advantage, but it isn’t a death sentence. Portland has a slightly higher road winning percentage than Houston, and in their last match-up in Houston, the Blazers narrowly lost in overtime. Both teams are so evenly matched that home court advantage could potentially not amount to much. Both teams are in the top five in points per game and rebounds per game. Portland is 22nd in points allowed while Houston is 23rd. The Blazers have a slight advantage in assists.
The key characteristic of both teams is that both have high powered, efficient offenses, and have serious deficiencies on defense. The presence of Dwight Howard allows Houston to take a lot of risks on defense and hope Howard can block, or alter a shot. James Harden is infamous for disappearing on defense for several minutes at a time. Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is often criticized for his defensive skills, but not more than Harden.
Having Joel Freeland back and healthy for this series should help a lot. Houston would have been able to easily attack Robin Lopez with Dwight Howard to try and get him out of the game with foul trouble and expose Portland’s lack of depth. Freeland is not as athletic as other bench big man Thomas Robinson, but he is more consistent and fundamentally sound. Plus the more big bodies the better when facing a team with a center like Howard.
Overall, I like this match-up for Portland. Of the four teams ahead of them in the standings I think Houston gives the Blazers the best chance to win a first round series, something they haven’t done in 14 seasons. Portland seems to struggle most against physical teams that play defense at a high level because they are almost completely reliant on their offense. Houston plays in a similar fashion and we should expect a whole lot of points to be scored in this series. James Harden is one of those players who almost always gets his points. Ideally Wesley Matthews can hound him into shooting a low percentage to make Houston’s offense as inefficient as possible. Defending the three-point line will also be key. Houston shoots the most threes in the NBA. The length of Nic Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge should help keep Houston’s three-point percentage down.
As Blazers fans, we should all be very pleased that our team is back in the playoffs. Many experts pegged this team to be lottery bound for a few years before reaching the playoffs. This team definitely exceeded expectations, but we shouldn’t be satisfied with just a playoff berth and neither should the team. Portland has a legitimate chance to beat Houston in a seven game series, which would be huge step in the growth of this young team. Either way the series should be exciting to watch with a lot of points scored and lots of up tempo play.
Sunday night will be a fun one.