April 24, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: Houston, We've Got A Problem

The sky is falling for Houstonians hoping the Rockets were primed for a deep playoff run, as the Portland Trailblazers have taken a 2-0 series lead after defeating Houston 112-105 Wednesday night. There are a flurry of things troubling about this notion, with the biggest issues being James Harden's severe struggles and the scary fact that the series is headed back to Portland.

The major story of this series, and possibly the playoffs is LaMarcus Aldridge's utter dominance of the Houston Rockets. In two games, Aldridge has poured in 89 points, 26 rebounds, 5 blocks on 59% shooting.

In Game 1, Aldridge totaled 46 points and 18 rebounds in a 122-120 triumph that went into overtime, and he followed up that dynamic performance with another 43 points and 8 rebounds in Game 2.

No matter who the foe, Aldridge has risen to the occasion simply out matching them with his varied skill set. On pick and rolls he pops, drilling midrange after midrange with his gorgeous stroke. If Houston closes out hard, he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim with ferocity.

He's the only player in Blazers franchise history with back to back 40 point playoff games, and the first player to do so since LeBron James in the 2009 postseason.

Even more impressive is that Aldridge is the first player since Michael Jordan to put up at least 80 points and 15 boards in his teams first two postseason contests.

Terrence Jones is too small to matchup with Aldridge, as his lanky frame allows him to just loft one over Jones, gliding through the net time and time again.

Having Howard attempting to contain LaMarcus is risky, as Dwight could be baited into fouling him, parking him on the bench in the games most important moments.

If it's an isolation situation, Aldridge uses impeccable footwork and expertise to wart off the effectiveness of Houston's defensive schemes. He's hitting fadeaways, turn-arounds, step backs and quick decisive moves to single handily punish this Rockets team. He's been a major issue in the first two games, and shortcomings do not seem likely as the series heads home for Portland. Honestly, what else can Houston do, when the guy is burying the shots a team would beg him to take?

Houston can't seem to figure out how to contain the former Texas University big man, as he continues to pierce the Rockets mediocre defense with a bevy of midrange jumpers. Aldridge is on the attack, determined to lift the "underdog" moniker that has been latched to Portland's name during this series.

Many assumed this series would go 6 or 7, but not many anticipated Portland winning. This is due to the fact that many fans and experts expected Rockets guard James Harden to step up and deliver a big time performance.

Harden's play has been downright embarrassing, abysmal and has not reflected that of a player many claim to be a superstar. Harden is averaging 22 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds in the series. These numbers may present themselves as respectable, but that becomes a rarity after the percentages are factored in.

James is shooting 29.8% from the floor, 26% from behind the arc, and is committing 4.5 turnovers per game. His defensive effort is pitiful, as his deficiencies on that end of the floor cannot be hidden.

Portland is too skilled 1-4 to allow Harden to remain absent on defense. All of Portland's starters with the exception of Robin Lopez can shoot, put the ball on the floor to some extent and make great passes. Wesley Matthews can take Harden in the post, forcing James to exert some energy on the defensive end, even when he's completely reluctant to do so.

Harden looks disengaged on the defensive end, overwhelmed by a sense of boredom or quite simply just lost. He has little to no interest in trying to stop the opposition, as he tends to meander in his little own world.

Normally, the issues Harden endures defensively, can be somewhat ignored as he provides Houston with top notch offensive production. Unfortunately for Houston, this has not been the case. As they head into Portland, they are in dire need of a monster game from James.

His wild and inconsistent output has become problematic for Kevin McHale and company, and if the tide doesn't change in Game 3, this series and season will become a memory. One that's filled to capacity with misery and disappointment.

James has missed 33 shots in just two games, as the quality of these heaves have been questionable and of the wild variety. His Game 2 performance was horrid, as James scored 18 points (6-19 FG, 2-5 3PT FG,) 4 AST (5 turnovers,) and 3 REB.

Shaquille O'Neal's favorite scapegoat, Dwight Howard promised that he would step up, as Shaq challenged Howard to beckon to his call of domination. In Game 1, Dwight Howard had 27 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks. He shot an uncharacteristic 43% from the floor, and when the Hack-A-Dwight tactic was employed, he choked, clanking FT after FT allowing POR back into the game.

He promised Game 2 would be different. He soothed the restless souls of Rockets fans with his words, the same words that he's murmured for the last several years, trying to dodge the hatred that two fan bases now possess for DH. The first half of Game 2 was the Dwight Howard basketball fans have been yearning to see since his Orlando days.

Howard imposed his will on the Trailblazers with a savage like effort. His assault included rapid moves, intense and dedicated energy and a seriousness that many have clamored for since he's entered the league.

He was dunking the ball with ease, with forceful slam after slam. Rushing up and down the court, perusing rebound after rebound, attempting to generate some type of offensive magic for the Rockets. The defensive lapses Houston was subject to? Howard did his best to promptly clean up the mess Houston's perimeter defenders were making.

Dwight stuffed the stat sheet with 32 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. 25 of those points came in the first half, but that roaring early energy was hushed in the second half with Howard just scoring seven points in the 3rd and 4th quarters. LaMarcus Aldridge out-dueled DH12, and this has some troubling circumstances brewing for Dwight Howard and James Harden.

Houston, we most certainly do have a problem. The player whom many has labeled as the best shooting guard in the league is currently engaged in a puzzling disappearing act. Houston's bench is producing little to nothing, and the Trailblazers big man LaMarcus Aldridge is ripping their defense to shreds.

Gashing through Houston's defense has set Portland up to devastate the Rockets and their championship aspirations with a critical hit. The series is headed to the Moda Center, where the fans are sure to be crazed, dancing in a pool of anxiousness.

Anxious to execute the Rockets with a final dagger in Game 3, that would more than likely bury their dreams of marching past the first round of the postseason.

With the way things have been going, that dagger may swing from the hands of LaMarcus Aldridge, as he's proved it's no tough task to down Houston with his performances in the first two games of this series. What's frightening for Houston is that in the first two games, they have pricked themselves attempting to wield their own dagger.

HOU is wrecking it's chances of emerging victorious with bad shots, bad defense and inconsistencies from one of the league's biggest stars. Preparing for liftoff too fast, suddenly has Houston grounded faster than anyone expected.

The ascension they hoped to have must occur in Game 3, or the Rocket that Howard and Harden are navigating will be fastened to the ground, gazed upon by the front office racking their brains on how to patch things up for smoother sailing next season.

Are the Rockets done for? Will Howard and Harden bounce back in Game 3? Share thoughts and opinions with me on Twitter (@wcboyer24) and remember to continue to support The Basketball Society. 

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