LaMarcus on Howard and being up 2-0
HOUSTON -- The Houston Rockets are in shock. Wednesday night the Trail Blazers put it to them again en route to a 2-0 series lead and I'm still not sure if the Rockets know what hit them. Oh, other than a runaway freight train.
Once again it was LaMarcus Aldridge -- they call him the "L Train" in Portland, providing a lot of the firepower for the Blazers. Instead, though, of beating Houston up at the post, Aldridge went outside and punished the Rockets with tough jump shots, hitting 18 of 28 en route to 43 points. He's not just the Most Valuable Player of this series after two games, he's been the best player in the league after the opening five days of the playoffs.
Rockets' Coach Kevin McHale schemed a way to get Aldridge off the post -- mostly by covering him with bigger players -- but Aldridge rendered the strategy useless by banging away from the outside.
"We took him out of the post for the most part," McHale said. "He made some tough shots. So far, he's had a hell of a series. We were trying to get the ball out of his hands as much as we could but a lot of the stuff he did was pick and pop."
McHale was outcoached just about every step of the way, just as he was in Game 1. Adjustments? Not many. Defense? Not good. Offense? Well, disorganized, stalled and without inspiration. But part of McHale's problem, quite frankly, has been Aldridge. He's played so well, he'd make a lot of coaches look dumb.
The Rockets just never got anything consistent going on offense other than Dwight Howard in the post. And for the most part, just early in the game. But Portland never surrendered that matchup, preferring for the most part to not double-team. Eventually, Howard started missing and took himself out of the game with foul trouble and the threat of missed free throws.
Meanwhile, the other Houston all-star, James Harden, had another miserable night from the field, hitting just 6 of his 19 shots. Wesley Matthews has basically made a deal with a realtor, bought title insurance, arranged a mortgage and taken up residence in Harden's cranium. Harden appears confused and unsure of himself -- and this from a player likely to be a first-team all-NBA selection and one of the best shooters in the game.
Matthews insists he's not doing anything special on defense but something's up. Portland's got something figured out and the tough and smart Matthews is using it to perfection.
All in all, it was a stunning night. This game was no fluke. The Trail Blazers looked as poised as they have all season and weathered an early storm from the Rockets. After halftime, Portland took control and pretty much maintained it the rest of the way.
There's nothing more perplexing in sports than a favored team, in this case one that appeared to think it had a chance to go all the way to the NBA Finals, lose back-to-back games at home. This was just not ever considered possible by the players, the local media or the fans. At the start of this series, the only question in Houston was whether this team was going to win the NBA title. And a lot of people figured that answer was "YES!"
I don't think there was much respect at all for the Portland Trail Blazers.
I did a television show locally Tuesday night and one of the media members asserted that if the Rockets were playing their game, they should beat the Blazers by 20. Well, maybe. But it doesn't appear to me that Portland is going to allow Houston to play its game.
And the end result is that Kevin McHale has no answers. At times, I'm not sure if he even knows the questions.