trailblazers

2014 NBA playoffs: Previewing Portland Trail Blazers vs. Houston Rockets

Rip City vs. Clutch City

The Portland Trail Blazers are returning to the NBA playoffs, and their first-round matchup will be against James Harden, Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets.

No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 4 Houston Rockets
Portland (54-28), Houston (54-28)
Game 1: Sunday, April 20 6:30 PM PT | TNT/KGW

Regular Season Series

D12 or L.A.? Who will thrive in Round 1? (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

D12 or L.A.? Who will thrive in Round 1? (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

If there’s one thing to note from this season series, it’s how high-scoring each contest was. The Blazers and Rockets scored 109.5 and 116 points per game, respectively, which makes sense considering they’re the No. 3 and No. 2 scoring teams in the Association.

Although Portland scored plenty of points against the Rockets, it went just 1-3 in four games. As we already pointed out, the team allowed Houston to score 116 points per contest, which once again makes sense considering the Blazers gave up the 22nd-most points in the regular season — the Rockets were 23rd.

It goes without saying that this will be a battle of two offenses, but as NBA fans know, the game slows down in the postseason. Each team will be forced to run half-court sets, which means guys such as Dwight Howard, James Harden, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge will need to shoot a high percentage to out-duel their newfound adversaries.

Key Narrative

This time of year, health is crucial for everyone. No team wants to see its stars go down or its depth become shallow, but for these two squads, remaining injury-free is imperative when it comes to success.

At this juncture, both rosters appear to be healthy. For Houston, Patrick Beverly and Dwight Howard both made their returns against the New Orleans Pelicans, and for Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge has looked fine and Joel Freeland is ready to make a comeback.

Both teams are ready to go, but one wrong step from any given player could make a difference one way or the other.

Key Matchup

This series is going to be chock-full of exciting matchups. Nicolas Batum and Chandler Parsons will be a faceoff between X-Factors. Aldridge and Dwight Howard don’t play the same position, but the two superstars will without a doubt face off against one another. Wesley Matthews and James Harden make up another entertaining battle.

Key matchups will be spread across every aspect of this series, but the most intriguing comes in the form of Damian Lillard versus Patrick Beverly.

Back in March, the fuel was thrown on this fire. Beverly and Lillard exchanged words at the end of an overtime contest, and it didn’t stop there.

“You’ve got somebody out there who wants to try to be bumping and doing little slick stuff,” Lillard said during a post-game interview. “I’m not going to buy into it but I’m almost not going to let it fly.”

Beverly didn’t take kindly to Lillard’s demeanor, either, stating, “Damian Lillard whines…I’m not a big fan of that.”

Houston is, for the most part, an awful defensive team on the perimeter, but Beverly is the exception. How well he contains Lillard will set the tone for this one, and if he’s effective, it will give Houston’s defense more time to focus on Aldridge.

Prediction

As much as Rip City would love to see the Trail Blazers make the second round for the first time since 2000, this is just a bad matchup for it to happen.

At this juncture, the Rockets are the favorites for a reason. If Portland had home-court advantage it might be different, but even so, it would have guys like Harden, Beverley and Howard to deal with.

The Blazers should get two games to make things interesting, but the team will have to wait for another chance to break the 14-year drought.

Prediction: Houston 4-2

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About Bryant Knox

NWSB Editor. Portland native and Oregon graduate, On a non-stop mission to consume as much Ducks+Trail Blazers content as humanly possible. His love of sports is what attracts him to the game, passion for writing drives him to uncover the stories. Connect w/ Bryant today!
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