Around The World: April 18, 2014

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Trail Blazers: Spears: Rockets Have 'No Way To Defend' Damian Lillard

“I expect him to jump straight into the playoffs as if he’s been there before,” said Spears, “be a superstar and have some really, really good games against a Houston Rockets who I don’t think have any way to defend him.”

Trail Blazers: Aldridge Ends Fifth On NBA.com's MVP Rankings

“Aldridge doesn’t seem to be getting much credit for his career year or the unexpected success of the Trail Blazers this season, as most of the ballots for All-NBA teams I’ve seen do not include Aldridge. That’s not entirely surprising, as power forward is the most stacked position in the NBA, but anyone who watched the Trail Blazers after Aldridge went out with a lower back contusion knows just how valuable he is to Portland. Finishing fifth the NBA.com MVP ranking reflects that.”

Trail Blazers: NBATV Previews The Trail Blazers And Rockets

“Topics including the point guard showdown between Damian Lillard and Patrick Beverley/Jeremy Lin, the importance of the three-point ball in the series for both teams, what Dwight Howard needs to do and the offensive brilliance of James Harden. One thing missing? LaMarcus Aldridge, who doesn’t even get mentioned until the very end of the segment. Media seems to be treating LA as a bit of an afterthought in this series, though you can be sure he’s first and foremost on Houston’s defensive gameplan.”

Trail Blazers: Playoff Predictions: Few Pick Portland To Advance

“Of the 18 NBA experts ESPN.com has making picks, just three — Israel Gutierrez, Amin Elhassan and Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight.com — have the Trail Blazers winning the series versus the Rockets, with all three picking Portland to win in six games. Of the 15 who are picking the Rockets to win the series, six went with the Rockets in seven games, five had the Rockets winning in six games and four have the Rockets winning in five games. The four who are picking the Rockets in five often use advance stats heavily in their work.”

Trail Blazers: Playoff Notes: Trail Blazers Vs. Rockets

“In four games this season, the Rockets have averaged 116.0 points against the Trail Blazers, the second-highest average against Portland in the NBA this year (L.A. Clippers, 117.0). Portland scored 438 total points against Houston this season, their third-highest point total against any opponent.”

Trail Blazers: Trail Blazers-Rockets Matchups: Nicolas Batum Might Be Series X-Factor As He Battles Chandler Parsons

“Nico has always been an X-factor, because he can really dominate a game in every way,” Lillard said. “Defensively, rebounding the ball, making big plays, making shots. And Chandler Parsons has that same ability. So I think it’ll be a fun matchup to see.”

Oregon Live: Trail Blazers Will Send No. 24 Pick To Charlotte To Complete Gerald Wallace Trade

“Wallace played parts of two seasons for the Blazers, helping them make the 2011 playoffs, then was traded to New Jersey in 2012 in a deal through which Portland got the No. 6 draft pick. The Blazers used that pick the select Damian Lillard.’’

Oregon Live: Trail Blazers-Rockets Matchups: Wesley Matthews, Blazers Searching For Ways To Slow James Harden's Favorite Play

“We know James is going to be in attack mode on offense; but I have to be in attack mode on offense as well. Not necessarily try to score every time, but he can’t have a possession off.”

Oregon Live: Trail Blazers-Rockets Matchups: Strengths Of Damian Lillard And Patrick Beverley Collide At Point Guard

“He is kind of a pest,’’ Lillard said. “He is physical, he’s bumping you, and that’s his style. I’m not going to say anything about what he does, because it works for him and it works for his team. But I’m excited about the matchup.’’

Rip City Project: Portland Trail Blazers Playoffs – How Much Will Health Matter?

"The re-addition of Freeland could actually prove to be more sneakily important than it would appear at first glance, as he is another big body to throw at Howard. Howard is adept at drawing fouls, so having a full complement of Robin Lopez, Freeland, Meyers Leonard, Thomas Robinson, and maybe even Victor Claver to throw at Howard will be a valuable luxury for Head Coach Terry Stotts to have."

Rip City Project: Trail Blazers, Rockets: The No-Call that Changed Everything

"Lin took over six seconds to inbound the ball! The five seconds allowed came and went before Harden even began streaking to the corner. The play should have resulted in a rather obvious turnover and nearly certain Portland victory, not an extra period while the Rockets had momentum on their home court. I understand not wanting the game to be decided by such an anti-climactic error, but that no-call ultimately cost the Trail Blazers home court advantage in the first round against the very team they faced that night."

Blazersedge: Playbook Breakdown: How Can The Blazers Upset The Rockets?

"Sending LaMarcus Aldridge right at Terrence Jones does a couple things. First, it sets up Portland's most reliable offensive weapon early. Pushing Jones into foul trouble and forcing the Rockets to mash together a lineup with Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Dwight Howard down low is not in Kevin McHale's game plan."

Ball Don't Lie: Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Houston Rockets Vs. Portland Trail Blazers

“The issue for Portland, though, is the lack of reliable help behind Lopez. Portland's been about three points-per-100 worse when Lopez has left the floor this season, and while the Blazers outscored the Rockets by three points in 119 minutes with Lopez on the court during their four meetings, they had their doors blown off when he sat, getting outscored by 29 points in 78 minutes. Stotts doesn't have an Omer Asik to turn to when his primary defensive big man needs a rest. What he's got is Joel Freeland, fresh off missing more than two months with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee; the athletic but raw Thomas Robinson, who's capable of providing bursts of energy and tempo-changing play, but is undersized and outgunned against the Howard-Asik duo; and Meyers Leonard, who, if all goes according to plan for the Blazers, figures to do little more than cheer on his teammates in this series.”

CNNSI: Spurs, Heat, Thunder lead Playoff Power Rankings

"Finishing the season 9-1 put some wind back in Portland's sails, but questions still remain about the Blazers' depth and defense. Those concerns won't seem as pressing if LaMarcus Aldridge continues his April form (23.3 points, 11.5 rebounds in six games) and second-year point guard Damian Lillard -- who is making his playoff debut -- breaks out like some think he can this postseason."

CNNSI: SI.com's 2014 NBA Playoff Predictions

“In 2012, Miami rolled over a young Oklahoma City team that wasn't quite ready for the moment. I can see a similar situation unfolding here. San Antonio has the size to match up with Indiana up front, a point guard who can dominate a matchup in the backcourt and a sharp offense that can build plenty of early leads from which the Pacers can't rally. If the Spurs are nicked up from what figures to be a rugged conference playoff run, Indiana could sneak into the series. But a full-strength San Antonio squad is too good and too experienced for the Pacers this season. ”

ESPN: Giant Killers In The NBA Playoffs

“A handful of underdogs (Atlanta, Brooklyn and Golden State) split the season series, but only one lower seed actually won it outright -- the Wizards, who took two out of three meetings with the Chicago Bulls. While, as usual, there are caveats -- both Washington wins came shortly after the Luol Deng trade, and Chicago won the most recent meeting by 18 at the Verizon Center -- if you're looking for a likely upset, Wizards-Bulls is a good place to start.”

TrueToronto: Kings Of The North

“The Raptors’ offense is simple, yet not unlike the San Antonio Spurs', the wrinkles make it effective. It’s hard for opponents to stymie pick-and-rolls when Amir Johnson is so adept at slipping screens; or maybe it’s Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough discretely floating into open space. Vasquez delivers pick-and-roll passes like it’s pizza for Hedo Turkoglu. DeRozan has transitioned from an abysmal passer to one who’s slightly above average, taking whatever the defense throws at him in stride -- be it in the form of a 30-point barrage or a cerebral read-and-react outing. While other squads would develop complicated tactical maneuvers for the various types of coverage DeRozan is prone to seeing now, the Raptors rest their laurels on just knowing where to be. It has paid off. The Raptors’ offensive rating has gradually increased with their chemistry, peaking at 112 in April.”

TrueBrooklyn: Weird, Wild Stuff

“No one on the team came to eccentricity more naturally than Kidd, the rookie coach learning on the job. He made his first splash on the court in the rare literal sense, commanding second-year guard Tyshawn Taylor to “hit me,” which knocked his drink to the floor and gave the Nets a bonus timeout. He coldly dismissed Frank after one too many disputes, deciding he didn’t need the planned route to build a winning team. He stopped wearing ties. He stopped shaving. He stopped trying to prove he deserved a spot as an NBA coach, using blasé clichés as passive weapons in news conferences. He won two Eastern Conference Coach of the Month awards in the last four months thanks to his team’s newfound energy and two-way punch. All because things didn’t go as planned."

ESPN: Series Preview: Rockets Vs. Trail Blazers

“3s, 3s and more 3s. If the Blazers shoot enough of 'em and have the slightest luck hitting 'em, they'll win. I'm not picking Portland because this season Houston is a little better at defending the arc (opponents shooting 35 percent, instead of 37 last season), while to my eyes it's especially effective against the Blazers, who make 37 percent of 3s against the league this season but just 32 percent against Houston.”

DIME: The 5 Best Matchups To Watch In The NBA Playoffs This Weekend

“Well, this should be a series revolved around offense and the three-point line. Despite the questionable and often lack of overall defense by both squads, each team features two All-Stars as their forefront in LaMarcus Aldridge/Damian Lillard and James Harden/Dwight Howard. Additionally, each team employs solid role players that could tip the advantage point for their team in any given game. The Nicolas Batum/Chandler Parsons one-on-one matchup is not one to sleep on, as that has the potential for representing the X-factor for either team.”

DIME: 8 Keys To Watch For In The NBA Playoffs This Weekend

“However, the most important key in this series will be the turnover differential. Both teams play an up-tempo style but are total opposites when handling the ball. The Blazers take care of the ball extremely well on offense and don’t give away possessions, ranking third in turnover percentage. The Rockets, on the other hand, rank 28th in turnover percentage, constantly turning the ball over and playing careless on offense. Both of these teams will score and execute on offense, but the team that protects the ball better will win the series.”