Friday, April 17, 2009

Hardened Houston faces stiff test in raw but hungry Blazers

Not only do the Blazers make their triumphant return to the postseason after a five-year absence, they do so with the home-court edge in the opening round. The Rockets don't feel quite as giddy, coughing up a 14-point second half lead Wednesday at Dallas to go from the possible second seed in the Western Conference to fifth.

"Like I told the team," Houston coach Rick Adelman said, "it's a really good learning experience for when we play this weekend because that's what the pressure is going to be like and we're going to have to respond to it."

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Brandon Roy vs. Ron Artest: In a league ruled by glamour swingmen, Roy sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. The Blazers' shooter already has two All-Star nods under his belt, but the Playoffs are an entirely new ballgame for the 24-year-old guard. "I'm looking at it as a challenge," Roy said.

Artest is no stranger to challenge. Houston's designated stopper doesn't back down to any, and he'll be looking to back down Roy a lot. Though both are roughly the same height -- Artest is listed as an inch taller than the 6-foot-6 Roy -- the difference in weight is nearly 60 pounds. The much-bigger Artest would prefer to punish Roy physically rather than chasing him around.

Behind the numbers

11:15 -- Amount of time Greg Oden logged against Houston this season. Portland's rookie center and his six fouls are going to be needed against Yao Ming, the Rockets' 7-foot-6 man in the middle.

Five big questions

1. Even with falling to fifth, did Houston catch a break getting this matchup?

The Rockets aren't exactly getting grizzled playoff veterans. The Blazers own only 35 games of playoff experience. The top two scorers -- Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge -- are only in their third seasons. Four rookies filled important roles in the rotation.

"We're pretty healthy going in," Portland coach Nate McMillan countered. "I guess most teams want to face us because of our youth, but we play hard and have played the right way all season long. Frankly this is what I envisioned when I came here."

2. Why can't the Rockets get the ball to Yao with the game on the line?

That's been an Achilles' heel for Houston all season. Part of it is the inexperience of point guards Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry. It also doesn't help that the Rockets don't really have a perimeter scorer who can break down the defense, a la Tracy McGrady, and get the ball to Yao at the basket.

"It's the whole team," Adelman said. "It's not one or two guys, it's the whole team. We have to get in the right spots and you've got to be aggressive in moving the ball and understanding that they're taking away with the front, and attack the other sides and be aggressive with it."

3. How will Portland's finesse fare against Houston's brawn?

Though he's the Blazers' power forward, Aldridge would rather shoot jumpers than bang. Roy, Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez thrive in the open court slashing to the rim. Artest, Yao, Shane Battier and Luis Scola embody the Rockets' roughshod ways.

"Houston is a really tough team," McMillan said. "With Yao they're really tough in the post and they have good defenders in Battier and Artest. They're a tough matchup but we've played them well even though they do play both ends of the court."

Added Blazers center Joel Przybilla: "They're going to come in and play physical and we have to match their intensity every night."

4. Which team is the most dangerous beyond the arc?

Both use the 3-point shot at roughly the same frequency and with the same success. The Rockets connected on 621 from downtown at 37.5 percent, while Portland tallied 596 at 38.3 percent. Four players on each squad nailed at least 80 from beyond the arc.

Fernandez broke the rookie record for 3-pointers in a season with 159, including at least one in all 38 of his games at home. Artest paced the Rockets with a career-high 153.

5. Can Blazermania trump Clutch City?

Portland's 34-7 mark at the Rose Garden is the fourth-best home record in the league. The Rockets checked in at 33-8 inside the Toyota Center, setting a franchise record for wins in the six-year-old arena.


Blazers in 7

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