In the first round of the NBA Western Conference playoffs, it will be the fourth seed Portland Trail Blazers (54-28) against the fifth seed Houston Rockets (53-29). The Rockets took the season series two games to one. Their one loss was a 101-99 OT contest. When they beat Portland, they did it by four and then by 14 points.
One game separates these two playoff teams as Portland has 54 wins and Houston 53. Portland tied Denver for first in the Northwest and Houston finished one game behind the first-place Spurs in the Southwest Division. Portland won six games straight and nine of its last 10. Sporting the second-best PF/PA average (plus-5.3) in the Western Conference, the Blazers held opponents to 94.1 PPG while scoring 99.4. Houston went six-and-four in their last 10 contests, holding opponents to 94.4 PPG and scoring 98.4. The result was a PF/PA average of plus-4.0 PPG.
Five Trail Blazer players post double-digit point averages. Shooting guard Brandon Roy, who has an impeccable work ethic, leads the club in scoring with 22.6 PPG. His 5.1 assists and 38% success rate from the three-point arc are solid. He’s good 48% of the time from the field and 82% of the time from the charity stripe. Upfront, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is tough to stop. He puts in an average of 18.1 PPG, takes down 7.5 RPG and makes 1.0 BPG. His three-point rate is a dismal 25% but from the field he’s good 48% of the time. Point man Steve Blake put up 5.0 APG, 1.0 SPG and 11 PPG. Travis Outlaw has posted 12.8 PPG. His scoring chops from a distance are impressive as he connected on 38% of his threes. This is a solid defensive team that can also score points.
The Houston Rockets managed quite a run last season despite the fact that they were without star center Yao Ming. Yao is back and he led the team in points (19.7 PPG), rebounds (9.9 RPG) and blocks (1.95 BPG) this season. Also upfront, small forward Ron Artest puts in 17.1 PPG while making 1.52 SPG. Power forward Luis Scola rips down 8.8 RPG while putting up 12.7 PPG. In the backcourt, point man Aaron Brooks offers decent shooting chops with 11.2 PPG. He hit 40% of his shots from the field and 37% from the three-point arc. He’s an 87% free throw shooter. Small forward Shane Battier is a tough worker and a gamer who can hit from any where on the court.
This is another tough series to define and predict. It makes sense in some way that Houston should take Portland. Yao is a premium player and the supporting cast is decent. But the Trail Blazers offer excellent shooters, depth and fine defense. I’m picking the Houston Rockets in seven. The games in this series will be for the most part close and exhausting. Yao wants to prove something and a driven player is always worth an extra win or two in the post-season.