The Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers will be facing off in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Houston was able to finish strongly at the end of the year, while the Trail Blazers stumbled a bit after the new year. Houston was able to finish off the new year with a 32-15 record and land the 4 seed, while Portland finished with 29-22 record and reach the 5 seed.
They have faced four times this season with Houston winning 3 times out of 4 with a winning margin of 11 points. Every game, both teams were able to reach triple digits in points and ended up trying to out score each other. However, this is to no surprise as Houston is 2nd in points per game and Portland is 4th (In relation to the entire NBA).
In the playoffs, I expect the style of game to be no different. Neither team is known to be a lock down, defensive team, but instead, a high powered offensive team.
James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverly, and Jeremy Lin lead the Rockets with all five scoring in double digits per game. Portland is led by Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicholas Batum, and Robin Lopez with all five scoring in double digits per game.
Against each other, Dwight Howard and James Harden seem to pick up their play. Harden averages 33 PPG (Compared to his usual 25 PPG) and Howard averages 26 (Compared to his usual 18 PPG), which combines to 59 points total.
Howard and Harden have taken advantage of their adversaries (Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez), as Harden is 13-6 all time versus Matthews, and Howard is 10-3 versus Lopez. Howard. Since 2013, Harden has averaged 32 PPG versus Matthews and won 5 out of 6 times. Howard has averaged 24 PPG, 11 TRB, and won 6 out of 7 times versus Robin Lopez (Since 2013). Overall, the Trail Blazers will have to find a way to contain the Rockets two stars, Howard and Harden.
On the other side, the Trail Blazers duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will have to match the greatness of Howard and Harden. LaMarcus has played great versus the Rockets averaging 27 PPG and 16 TRB. Since Patrick Patterson has taken the starting power forward spot for the Rockets, Aldridge has dominated.
In the first meeting, LaMarcus had 21 points and 5 rebounds - eh, not bad, but not great. However, versus Patterson, Aldridge averages 29 PPG and 19 rebounds per game. The Rockets will have to find a way to contain LaMarcus (Possibly putting another bigger man in the paint) in the first round series. Damian Lillard does not play above his numbers versus the Rockets, as he averages 19 PPG and 5 APG.
Overall, the most important players in the series will be Dwight Howard, James Harden, and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Going along with the great scoring and talent of the teams, the games will be decided by who out scores the other. In each game, the winner has shot more efficiently from the field and had their best players raise their play.
Finally, the big men on each team will come in handy in the first round series. In the three wins, the Rockets out rebounded the Trail Blazers by a total of 24 rebounds, while the Trail Blazers out rebounded Houston in their only win.
In the end, if you are looking for a high scoring, offensive powered game, the Rockets and Trail Blazers are where you want to watch.
I believe the Houston Rockets will win this series, as James Harden and Dwight Howard have raised their play to elite levels versus Portland, while the Rockets can find a way to contain one player. Also, the games have all been offensive games, and with Houston averaging the 2nd most PPG (As a team) in the NBA, the Trail Blazers will not be able to out score the Rockets.
Winner: Houston Rockets
Keys to Victory:
Harden and Howard - Can they continue their great play versus Portland? Can Portland lower their play?
LaMarcus Aldridge - Can he lead the Trail Blazers to victory? Can the Rockets contain his play?
Offense - Who will take advantage of their high powered offenses?
Rebounding - With two teams with great players in the paint, who will own the paint and boards?