Rockets-Trail Blazers Preview
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Houston has a LaMarcus Aldridge problem.
The Trail Blazers’ All-Star forward has been dominating with more than 40 points in each of the opening two playoff games with the Rockets in Houston.
Portland is up 2-0 as the series moves to Rip City on Friday night, giving the Rockets little time to figure out how to defend Aldridge.
He opened the playoffs with a franchise postseason-best 46 points in the Blazers’ 122-120 overtime victory, then followed it up with 43 points in the 112-105 win on Wednesday night.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale summed it up best when he said: ”So far, he’s had a hell of a series.”
Aldridge found success in the paint in the opener so the Rockets adjusted – but so did Aldridge, who went outside to pepper Houston with midrange jumpers. Thirteen of his 18 field goals came from 10 feet out or more.
”He’s making tough shots, he’s getting to the foul line. He’s offensive rebounding. He’s doing the whole package and it’s tough for us,” said Houston guard James Harden. ”We gotta figure something out real soon. In game three, it is either we win or it’s over.”
Aldridge is the first player to score 43 or more points in consecutive playoff games since Tracy McGrady in 2003, and the first to score at least 40 in back-to-back postseason games since LeBron James in 2009.
It almost goes without saying that Aldridge is the first Blazer with at least 40 points in back-to-back playoff games.
”You can tell just by his approach how he’s really dialed in and he’s playing big. He’s really taken it upon himself to do all these things,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said Thursday. ”Give him all the credit. He’s been wanting this moment for a long time and he’s rising to the challenge.”
Aldridge acknowledged the team for his success.
”This team in general just believes in me so much and they ride the wave so well,” he said. ”When I’m going one through 15, they are all cheering and telling me to shoot it. If I pass up a shot, they’re all mad at me and I think having 15 guys having your back like that is great.”
Aldridge’s play has put Portland in charge as the team returns home. The Blazers haven’t opened a playoff series with two straight wins since 2000, when they went up 3-0 on Utah in the Western Conference semifinals.
Portland ranked seventh in the league during the regular season with just 10 losses at home.
Only three teams have come back to win after losing the first two games of a seven-game series at home: The last was the 2004-05 Mavericks, who came back against the Rockets. Houston is 0-7 overall when falling behind 0-2 in the first round since the 1983-84 expansion.
Dwight Howard said it’s no time to panic.
”We’ve played against Portland in the regular season and we were successful. We just got to play basketball. We can’t look back. We have to stay positive,” he said. ”They (Portland) won two games but it’s the first to four and we can’t let our heads down. We dug a hole but we can always get out of it.”
Howard had 32 points and 14 rebounds in Wednesday’s loss, while Harden had 18 points.
Harden was the league’s top shooting guard in the regular season, but he’s 14 of 47 from the field in the playoffs for his worst two-game stretch of the season.
Part of that is due to Portland’s Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum taking turns at shutting him down.
”We’ve done a good job guarding without fouling and one thing about playoff basketball is that everybody has the every possession mentality,” Stotts said. ”We didn’t fall asleep on him and I don’t think he got a lot of easy looks and every great player in this league, you just want to make them work and I think Nick and Wes in particular really have made him work.”
For his part, Harden isn’t really concerned about a slump. He’s more focused on the Blazers – and stopping Aldridge.
”I’m not worried about my offense, I’m worried about our defense, our defense as a team. When we get stops and get out in transition everybody feels good about themselves and that’s when the assists flow in and things start going well,” he said. ”If we can’t get stops it makes it more difficult. They are a very good team.”