Blazers' focus on Rockets heading into season finale

Starters won't play a lot of minutes against Clippers

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. — With their playoff match-up and where they will begin the postseason set in stone, the Portland Trail Blazers turned their focus from Game 82 against the Los Angeles Clippers to their best-of-seven series against the Houston Rockets.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts has not only been around the league for over two decades, but he's been around successful teams for the majority of that time.

He says that the time they have to prepare for the match-up is rare, but that it's also good as the Blazers don't have to cram their Houston preparation in a small time frame.

"I can't remember knowing on Sunday who we were going to play," Stotts said Tuesday. "The fact that we can spread out our preparation time makes it easier for not only the players but the video staff and everybody else instead of trying to cram for an exam."

However, the mental preparation isn't the only thing the Blazers are getting ready for.

"We won't play the guys a lot of minutes," said Stotts with regards to how many minutes his starters and other rotation players will play in the season finale. "The guys that have played 82 will definitely start. LA (Aldridge) and Mo (Williams), we will see how it goes. A lot of the young guys will have a chance to play some minutes."

Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard have played and started in all 81 games so far this season.

Stotts wants them to be able to reach the 82-game milestone.

"Playing 82, starting 82, it's a badge of honor for guys that can do it. I think those guys are really proud of the fact that they've been available and played 82 games. It's something to be proud of," he said.

Also, with the result of the game's result being of little to no consequence for the Blazers, it gives the recently activated Joel Freeland to get some game reps before things get turned up a notch in the postseason.

"We'll probably play him in five minute stretches so we don't extend him too much. Really it's not about what we are looking for," Stotts said. "Today we saw Joel Freeland and the things that he was doing before he got hurt. I think it's important for him to get that game rep back in."

The fact that Houston has Dwight Howard, one of the league's premier foul-drawing forces, only adds to the importance of Freeland getting back into a groove.

"It's very important because Dwight can run through some big men," Stotts said. "He causes problems, he draws fouls. Obviously, Robin and LaMarcus can guard him — but having another big like Joel, you need to have depth at that position."