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Rockets Seek to Tie Series Against Portland, Thunder Needs to Deal with Allen Challenge

The No. 4 Houston Rockets will enter Game 2 against the No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, looking to tie up the series.

Two of their players have said they need to step it up after Game 1: Dwight Howard and James Harden.

Howard said after Sunday’s game, a 122-120 OT loss, “We have to play inside out, play their bigs and make it a long night for those guys. I have to demand the ball, get it and go to work.”

Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard

These comments come after the player scored 27 points with 15 rebounds but on 9 of 21 shots and a 1 of 6 start in Game 1. This is not business as usual as Howard has 60.1 percent career shooting for the playoffs.

He has attributed part of the problem to his team’s offense, which has been challenged by LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored a career-high 46 points on Sunday. The Rockets will need to do a better job of defending him, including Howard who spent a lot of his night guarding Terrence Jones.

But there’s more than his improved play. Howard is trying to keep his teammates’ spirits up by stressing a good attitude. He brings postseason play to the team from his Orlando Magic days. He recalled that in 2009, his team lost their first postseason game as well and then landed in the NBA finals.

Meanwhile, Harden threw himself under the bus too after Sunday’s game and say he needs to play better (producing more than his 27 points). One place to start is hitting shots; he missed 20 of them (two in the game’s last seconds). He entered the series with a 16.5 attempt average and the Trail Blazers will keep this in mind on Wednesday.

Aldridge has said he’ll be watching the player (and vice versa), staying close to him.

As for the coach’s take on Sunday’s game, Rockets Kevin McHale said, “It was just a lot of settling for shots. Just looking at their faces, they were almost all hyperventilating. They were all jacked up and juiced up to go and we didn’t play very well.”

Look for the Rockets to make adjustments for the second game and get the win (-6, 215 o/u). Further ahead, the team sits at 12/1 to win the Western Conference and 22/1 to win the 2014 NBA Championship.

For Portland, the team is 16/1 to win the conference and 40/1 to win it all.

In other news from the Northwest division, the No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder are tied 1-1 with the No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies. On Thursday, they’ll play Game 3.

While the Rockets have Aldridge to contend with, the Thunder are dealing with a pesky Tony Allen, who has defensively disrupted the team during this series. Kendrick Perskins said of Allen, his former Boston Celtics team, from Monday’s game, “One thing about it is, he don’t want the guy to catch the ball. He gonna deny, deny, deny. But once you catch the ball, you can go to work on him.”

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

This will open up opportunities for the Thunder to pounce on Allen. Durant was challenged by him in Game 2. He has the height advantage but it didn’t work out so well as Allen had two steals from him and challenged Durant in establishing a deep position.

From the series, Durant has a combined 69 points and 11 assists, going 10-of-18 against everyone but with less success against Allen at 9-of-25, according to ESPN stats.

Along with the Allen problem, the Thunder will also look for better play from Reggie Jackson. After Game 1’s nine points, eight rebounds, and four assists, Jackson was a different story in the second game, going 0-5 from the floor, scoring two points (free throws), and incurring two turnovers.

The Thunder’s bench will also need to improve after scoring 14 points as compared to the Grizzlies’ 33 points.

Vegas gives Oklahoma City the win in Game 3 (-1.5, 190 o/u).




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