Tuesday 20 March 2018 / 07:12 AM

Portland Steal First 2 In Houston

Are you looking for a job in which you’re allowed to be wrong 50% of the time and still keep your gig? Why not consider a career in sports writing?

Wow. The 2014 NBA Playoffs are making my predictions look like I pulled them out of a stale old fortune cookie from the back shelf of the pantry.

We’re now two games into the first round of the NBA Playoffs and with the exception of Miami taking two at home over Charlotte, none of the other playoff series are going according to plan.

But this is a good thing; it’s the unpredictable nature of sports that pushes us to tears and drives us to overwhelming feelings of glory. If the time ever comes that we know with certainty what will go down before the games begin, we’ll be better off watching those final four seasons of Lost that we buggered off.

I’m just kidding, who really gives a shit who “the others” are?

A taste of the rest before we get to the best.

This article is mostly supposed to be about LaMarcus Aldridge going all Michael Jordan on the Houston Rockets, but let’s first do a quick run-down of what’s happening in the rest of the NBA Playoffs.

  1. Following game one of the Spurs-Mavericks series, the word on the street was that if Nowitzki didn’t step up his game Dallas was looking to get swept. It turns out that a mere 16 points from the Mav’s big man was more than enough as Monta Ellis and Shawn Marion contributed 21 and 20 respectively en route to a 113-92 drubbing of San Antonio. The Spurs turned the ball over 24 times in game two; their previous high on the season was 22. This blowout win will surely boost the Mavericks’ confidence, not that Dirk and Co. were planning to lie down and play dead in this one.
  2. Atlanta dominated Indiana in game one, but the Pacers regained their composure and tied the series 1-1. If and when the number one seed gets their groove back, this series will be over, but until then the Hawks have to be happy heading back home with the split.
  3. The Bobcats gave the Heat a run for their money in game two, falling by four points 101-97, but LeBron James was too much for the Cats to handle. He led Miami with 32 points. The Heat is up two games to zilch.
  4. The Thunder weren’t so successful in preventing the #7 seed from sneaking out a road win in round one. Memphis has a history of eliminating this more talented OKC team. Could they have the Thunder’s number? The Grizzlies blew a five-point lead in the waning moments of game two by allowing a sick four-point play by Kevin Durant, but they held tough in OT to tie the series and earn a 111-105 victory.
  5. Brooklyn and Toronto have done precisely what we expected them to do. Split 1-1. This series will go at least six, if not seven games. More news to follow as soon as this match-up gets more exciting.
  6. Golden State eked out a 109-105 upset over the LA Clippers in game one despite Stephen Curry scoring just 14 points, a full ten points below his season average. In game two Blake Griffin knocked in 35 on 13 of 17 shooting from the field. The Clippers sent the Warriors home with tails between legs as the 138-98 drubbing was the first 40-point playoff win for any team in the league in four years. That being said, the series is tied 1-1, so Golden State got the job done presuming Coach Mark Jackson can use the embarrassing effort in game two as motivational material.
  7. The Wizards have now come from behind in two straight games on the road to go up 2-0 over the Bulls. If there’s a bright point for Chicago, they played well enough at times to win both of these games. They’ll have a decent shot of returning the favor and winning in Washington to get back into this one.

Basketball is a team sport, but you can’t win consistently in the playoffs without a player who’s capable of going into “unstoppable” mode.

In game one of the Portland-Houston series, LaMarcus Aldridge helped us to remember why Blazers fans were chanting “MVP, MVP” at Moda Center earlier on this season. His performance last Sunday was nothing short of impeccable.

Not only did Aldridge come up just four shy of a 50-burger (46 points if you’re bad at math), he posted a postseason career high 18 rebounds, was 2-for-2 from beyond the arc, and even added in a pair of assists and blocked shots.

As the Rockets watched the tape and prepared for game two, they really only had one thing on their minds: “Don’t let that happen again.”

Or … totally let that happen again.

On Wednesday night Aldridge erupted for 43 more, making him only the third active player to score 40+ points in consecutive playoff games. The other two? Kobe and LeBron. Welcome to the club LaMarcus, you’re a big boy now. (I’m sure he’s thrilled to have my approval.)

But their inability to guard #12 was just the start of the Rockets’ woes. Steady scorer James Harden has shot a dismal 29% from the field in the series, frustrating him to the point that he totally went off on a locker room reporter who questioned his inability to step up and play his game in the playoffs.

His response was basically, “It’s basketball, you miss shots”, but in this case the brash journalist was spot on. All-pro players aren’t allowed to miss 71% of their shots in two consecutive games, and certainly not when the marbles are on the line.

A case of immaturity?

Houston and Portland are the two youngest teams in this year’s playoff field. In fact, out of the thirteen youngest sides in the league, they are the only two to make it to the postseason (Houston #5, Portland #9).

The speed and agility of youth are great, but experience matters in professional basketball. Out of the top fifteen NBA rosters by age, only the New York Knicks missed out on heading to the big dance. It’s no wonder that we see venerable old dinosaurs busting out 15+ year careers. Veteran players may lose a step with time, but they more than make up for it with intangibles.

Just in case you’re wondering, the Miami Heat boast the oldest roster in the league, averaging 30.3 years of age. And those old dudes can ball.

So, Houston certainly still has a chance to prove their mettle and find the maturity needed to claw back from this deficit, but if Dwight Howard’s inability to play consistently over four-quarters and James Harden’s locker-room meltdown are any indication, the Rockets may have some growing up to do before they pose a serious threat to win when it matters most.

On the other side of the court, the Blazers are playing with confidence and swagger. Time will tell how they handle the pressure deeper into the playoffs, but for now they look to be a team that is wise beyond their years. They’re playing not like they’re new to this (which they are), but like they belong here.

The battle of the big men.

At times Dwight Howard has dominated down low, but Houston’s inability to get both their top guard and big man going at the same time has been the team’s bane on offense. In order to best utilize Howard’s strengths, Kevin McHale needs to draw up more pick and rolls.

Howard is perhaps the top pick and roll center in the league and this simple but effective tactic should help Harden get more open looks to hit a few jumpers and get his confidence back.

But McHale’s biggest boo-boo is hardly the team’s offensive playbook. After all, both games were tightly contested and it was not stagnation on offense that led to the losses, but instead the fact that they allowed a single player to score 89 points over the course of eight quarters and an overtime period.

McHale’s defensive adjustment for Aldridge was pathetically ineffective and you really need to question his logic. After watching Aldridge score at will down low in game one, McHale decided to bring in Omer Asik in game two to try and push Portland’s star forward to the outside and force him to take mid-range jump shots.

So, let me get this right. The “plan” is to give LaMarcus Aldridge mid-range jump shots? Awesome … here’s what we’re gonna do guys, let’s allow our opponent’s top scorer to take as many jumpers from his sweet spot as he’d like.

LaMarcus Aldridge shot 72% from the field through three quarters. Kevin McHale, try again

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Michael Airhart

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