Of all the first round matchups out West, this one is definitely my favorite. Both the Trailblazers and Rockets are evenly matched, with play makers up and down the rosters.
Portland won the first game in Houston in an Overtime thriller, with LaMarcus Aldridge scoring an incredible 46 points, and pulling in 18 rebounds. Houston and Portland finished second and fourth in scoring respectively, and first and second in three pointers made per game. Safe to say this will be a high scoring series. Though each team has a player scoring over 23 ppg, they each also have multiple scorers who can take over games on a given night.
Portland’s starting five has been terrific each of the last two years, with incredibly versatile, talented players. Damian Lillard (love him) is a rising star in the NBA and it’s hard to find a more underrated pair of players that Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Shooting, scoring, and versatile defensive abilities define that group. Their biggest problem has been their bench, which was historically bad last season, but slightly improved this year with the additions of Mo Williams and Thomas Robinson. Better, but still below par for a contender.
The Rockets are as exciting as any team in the game when their offense is clicking and their shots are falling. James Harden and Dwight Howard form a lethal pick and roll combo, and Chandler Parsons has become a terrific all-around player. Terrence Jones is a definite X-factor for Houston, as he’s immensely talented but young and inconsistent. Patrick Beverly is a rabid defender who can disrupt Lillard’s game and quality big man Omer Asik is practically a forgotten man.
I like Portland in this series, though I can’t say that with total confidence. To me Houston is a scary team that can go on a run to the Finals when hot, but they are inconsistent and Dwight Howard is back to griping over his touches. There’s also the problems of Harden’s consistently bad defense and selfish tendencies, despite his elite ability to score. Portland came back to Earth after a terrific run to start the season, but at this point I find it easier to trust a cold blooded young star in Lillard and elite inside outside big man in Aldridge over what I’ve seen from Howard and Harden so far. Neither team winning would surprise me, but at this moment I’d put my money on Portland.