The Houston Rockets host the Portland Trail Blazers in Game Five at Toyota Center on Wednesday in Game Five with their playoff lives on the line.
The Blazers have a 3-1 series lead but three of the four games went to overtime, and another tight game is expected in the Lone Star state. The four games of this contentious and highly entertaining first-round series have been decided by an average of just 4.25 points.
Both teams are quite aware of how this series can swing in either direction.
"Houston will show a lot of fight," Portland point guard Damian Lillard said. "I believe 100 percent that they feel like they can still win the series. It will be hard to put them away. We've got to take it up a level because they will try to keep their season alive."
"It's desperation time," Rockets forward Chandler Parsons said. "We don't want our season to end and if we lose that's going to happen. All of our backs are against the wall and we've just got to be a resilient team.”
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The Rockets will likely need to contain a certain Blazers big man to send the series back to Portland. LaMarcus Aldridge has been red hot through four games, averaging 35.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and three blocks.
The Blazers big man has enjoyed arguably his best professional season, and has looked particularly sharp in the postseason. But fatigue may be taking a toll on the 28-year-old. Aldridge played 44 minutes in Game Four, and 43 minutes in Game Three. As a result, his production has tapered off a bit, averaging 26 points per game in the two games. In the first two games of the series, Aldridge averaged 44.5 points per game.
Lillard and Nicolas Batum have been a thorn in Houston’s side, as well. The perimeter players have averaged 25.5 and 17.8 points per game in the series, respectively.
The Rockets duo of James Harden and Dwight Howard have put up big statistics, but with some mixed results. Harden, who has averaged 27.5 points per game, has used his step-back shot to frustrate the Blazers, but has also shot just 35 percent from the field.
Howard has averaged 27 points per game in the series, to go along with 14.3 rebounds, but the Rockets big man has struggled to pass out of the post to set up perimeter players. He has averaged just 1.5 assists, which might be a contributing reason for Houston’s rather poor outside shooting.
Rockets head coach Kevin McHale may consider giving Jeremy Lin more playing time. When the Rockets point guard has played over 30 minutes, he has thrived. Houston’s lone win in the series came when Lin played 33 minutes in Game Three, when he scored 13 points and added six assists. In Game One, Lin played 34 minutes and was instrumental in keeping the Rockets competitive in overtime, when he scored seven of Houston’s 14 points.
In contrast, Lin has shot a combined 2-12 in Games Two and Four, when he played 24 and 21 minutes, respectively. The Blazers have done a solid job of containing Lin with solid defensive guards, such as Wes Matthews. The 27-year-old has also been effective in slowing Harden.
McHale may also consider giving rookie Troy Daniels more playing time, as well. The 22-year-old converted five of his seven shot attempts in Game Four for 17 points. He was also the hero in Game Three, when he nailed a 27-foot shot off an assist from Lin with 11 seconds left in overtime to essentially give Houston the win.
“Man, that’s a big-time shot,” Lin said of Daniels’s shot. “I can’t say enough. It’s awesome because I know what it’s like to be in the D-League, and I know what he had to do all season and grind and work with no spotlight, no lights, nothing.
“The opportunity came. He seized it, hit a big shot. I’m happy for him. Everything he’s getting, he totally deserves.”
Should the Rockets win Game Five, the series will return to Portland on Friday for Game Six.
Start Time: 9:40 pm ET
TV Channel: TNT
Live Stream Info: A live online stream is available through NBA TV’s main website.
Betting Odds: Rockets -5
Over/Under: 214 points
Prediction: Rockets over Blazers, 111-110