NBA Preview from The Sports Network
Sunday, April 20th (All times Eastern)
(5) Portland Trail Blazers (0-0) at (4) Houston Rockets (0-0), 9:30 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the league's best offensive units take center stage Sunday night when the Houston Rockets host the Portland Trail Blazers at the Toyota Center.
The Rockets are the NBA's second-ranked offense at 107.7 ppg, followed by the Trail Blazers, who are fourth with 106.9 ppg.
Houston secured the home-court advantage with a win on Monday against the NBA's best, the San Antonio Spurs.
"We fought hard for it. It took a little longer than I hoped but we knew we had to get 54 wins and we got there with one to spare," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale.
The matchup between the two squads has been decidedly in Houston's favor over the last few seasons. The Rockets have won nine of the last 12 meetings, including three of four this season.
"It's the West. We don't care who we're going to play, it's going to be tough anyway," said Portland forward Nicolas Batum. "Houston is a good team, a great team. They've got a good group of players. We match up pretty well with them. We've had good games, tough games."
The Rockets were believed to be a serious contender for an NBA title when they signed prized free agent Dwight Howard in the offseason. Along with All-Star guard James Harden, they form a formidable one-two punch.
Portland, on the other hand, was a bit of a surprise this season. The Blazers hadn't made the playoffs the last two seasons, but the core group stayed healthy and the bench improved significantly.
These two teams met in the first round back in 2009, but oh how different they both are just five years later. Houston has no players on the roster from that team, which was led by Yao Ming, while only LaMarcus Aldridge and Batum remain for the Blazers.
"It won't be easy. It is going to be fun," said Batum. "Excited finally for playoffs to start because we wait too much for that, now almost three years, so ready to start."
The Rockets got healthy at the right time. Howard missed significant time late in the season with an ankle injury and starting point guard Patrick Beverley was shelved with a knee problem. Both came back before the end of the season and should be all-clear for the playoffs.
Portland is healthy.
This matchup is so even, down to the matching 54-28 records. Each team had two All-Stars in Howard and Harden for Houston and Aldridge and Damian Lillard for Portland.
As expected due to both teams' high offensive output, defense has suffered. The Blazers ranked 22nd in opponents' scoring, while the Rockets were one rung below.
"It's going to be a great series," said Harden. "There are so many guys that can score for them and for us. It's going to be a matter of the small things: who can limit their turnovers and rebound the basketball."
04/20 10:39:24 ET