How important is Home Court Advantage to the Trail Blazers in the postseason? What team poses the most favorable matchup to Portland? Six local reporters who eat, sleep, and breathe Trail Blazers basketball give their take in this week's edition of Running The Break.
1. After Portland fell to Phoenix and Houston knocked off Oklahoma City on Friday night, it’s now unlikely (although mathematically possible) the Trail Blazers will catch the Rockets for the No. 4 seed out West. With the said, do the Trail Blazers need Home Court Advantage in order to win a playoff series?
Casey Holdahl (@Chold), TrailBlazers.com: No, they don't. It would probably help, especially for a team with eight players who are on the precipice of their first NBA postseason, but you need to win just one road game to advance as the underdog, and the Blazers have shown this season that they can win away from the Moda Center.
Mike Tokito (@mtokito), The Oregonian: It would be very helpful against the Rockets, who are one of the better home teams (31-8) and have a pedestrian road record (20-17). Really, though, in a 4-5 matchup, I think you can overcome not having home court.
Erik Gundersen (@BlazerBanter), The Columbian: It would be nice but in this year's Western Conference, it matters a lot less.
Mike Acker (@mikeacker), Willamette Week: When the Blazers won 54 games in 2008-09 and hosted the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, they definitely needed home court advantage to have a chance at the second round. That team was almost unbeatable at home, and was one game under .500 on the road. Home court didn’t help, of course, since Houston came into the Rose Garden and promptly blew out the Blazers in game one and effectively ended the series. However, that was a young team with no meaningful playoff experience that needed the backing of the home fans to win games. This team is a little different. The Blazers’ road record was hurt some in March with those two very difficult road trips, but for the most part, they have bee more than capable of getting big wins away from the Rose City. That’s the long answer. The short answer is no, the Blazers don’t “need” home court to win in the first road.
Dave Deckard (@blazersedge), BlazersEdge: I’m not sure homecourt matters as much as matchups and momentum. If the Blazers are playing confidently they can win on the road. Teams that can exploit Portland’s weak spots will have no trouble with the floor looking a little different as they do so. If the opponent is the Rockets, that’ll be a monumental task for Portland, home or away.
SlyPokerDog (@SlyPokerDog), RipCityTwo.com: Nah, home court would be nice but not necessary. The Blazers just have to get one road game and then defend the court and the series is ours.
2. For a team that relishes the underdog role and plays their best basketball when they take an “Us Against The World” approach to the game, would the Blazers be better off starting the postseason on the road?
Deckard: That kind of motivation wilts in the playoff spotlight. The post-season is about talent, execution, and those all-important matchup advantages. You might squeak out a series on emotional momentum but if that’s what you’re banking on to carry you through to the Finals, you’ve already lost.
SlyPokerDog: I don't think it matters that much with this team. The team just has to come focused and ready to play.
3. Earlier in the season the Houston Rockets were viewed by most as the worst possible matchup for the Trail Blazers in the playoffs. While a series against the Rockets seems inevitable with two weeks to go, has your stance changed on possibly facing the Rockets in the First Round?
Deckard: No. It’s bad. Memphis might be worse, but not by much. In the regular season Houston doinked around a lot. They had advantages against the Blazers but didn’t always press them. Over 82 games continuity, pacing, and keeping everybody happy factor in. In a 7-game playoff series against a single opponent teams exploit their edges mercilessly. Houston won’t care a bit about going to Howard or Harden 50 times if necessary. They’ll draw from the well until it runs dry. I don’t see them sweeping the Blazers but Portland taking 4 of 7 against a prepared opponent with that kind of firepower plus a veteran supporting staff? Ouch.
SlyPokerDog: The Rockets are a bit banged up and I think might be a little overconfident concerning the Blazers. The Blazers just need to stay loose and try and steal a road game. I'm more worried about the Blazers staying focused than I am about the Rockets.
4. If it’s not Houston in the First Round, the other likely scenario would be Los Angeles. Given the choice between the Rockets and the Clippers, which team would the Trail Blazers have a better shot against in the postseason?
Deckard: The Clippers. They’re a better team than Houston overall but the Blazers also match up against them better…or at least have a chance to.
SlyPokerDog: We seem to be circling the same things here, home court advantage, no home court advantage, good match ups and bad match ups, I don't think it really matters that much. The Blazers have the talent and the personnel to beat anyone. In the vast majority of Blazer losses this year it's been because the team has beaten themselves. Bad quarters, slow starts and missed shots, it's mistakes this team has made then it has been about running into a more talented team. When the Blazers play to their strengths they can beat anyone.
5. If Joel Freeland returns before the playoffs, does Coach Stotts immediately put him in the rotation? If so, what does that mean for players like Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright who have had success in their current roles lately?
Deckard: Let’s define “success”. Zero Trail Blazer bench players have staked a claim to a spot in absolute terms. Some look indispensable but that’s a function of Portland’s thin roster, not talent and production. That’s true of even the best Portland reserves, let alone guys like Robinson and Wright. Performing well for a week does not a season make. This is true of Freeland as well but he’s played more consistently than most. If Coach Stotts believes he can contribute, worrying about bumping somebody else is an unaffordable luxury..
SlyPokerDog: Stotts may not have a choice. After watching Sunday night's game against the Pelicans it's obvious that Meyers Leonard isn't ready. If Lopez gets into foul trouble you have to throw Freeland out there if he's healthy. As far as TRob's and Wright's minutes are concerned I don't see Freeland being added to the rotation changing that much. Along with Barton they have found their role in the rotation.