TUALATIN, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers had one more practice at home Friday morning before traveling to Houston to face the Rockets in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
“We covered a lot of their stuff today,” said Damian Lillard on the focus of practice. “We went over a lot of our stuff today, our coverages, our offense. Basically just getting prepared for the next game.”
The Blazers, as a franchise, haven’t won a first round or even made it to a Game 7 in over a decade.
Lillard says the team doesn’t see the 14-year drought as the task at hand.
Their current task of winning a game in Houston — history aside — is hard enough.
“We want to try to take it one game at a time,” Lillard said. “Not get caught up in trying to be the first team to win a series in a long time or winning the series period. We just want to win the first game.”
“We’ve got to win a game at their place at some point so the sooner the better,” added Blazers head coach Terry Stotts.
Tactically, the Blazers haven’t been shy to address their focus for this series.
“Transition, transition, transition, transition,” in the words of Mo Williams.
The Rockets are top-five in the league in pace, measured in possessions per 48 minutes.
It’s their lack of one traditional ball-handler or designated creator, something some teams would consider a weakness, that is their strength in getting out on the break.
“Every time they rebound they are looking to run and push it,” Stotts said. “It’s a mindset with them. They have multiple ball handlers who can get the ball and go whether it’s (James) Harden, (Jeremy) Lin, (Patrick) Beverley or (Chandler) Parsons. They don’t just rely on one guy.”
The transition has been an avenue for the Rockets to get up three-pointers, run to the rim or get fouls. The Rockets — in two of the four meetings — brutally punished the Blazers in transition. The Phoenix Suns, another fast-paced team, also gave the Blazers trouble.
The Rockets lead the league in 3-pointers attempted per game, free-throw attempts per game and are by far dead last in midrange jumpers taken per game.
Dwight Howard and Harden are getting the headlines, but it’s Houston’s style of play in transition, and slowing that down, that the Blazers feel the main thing to watch in this series.
How does Portland prepare or work against Houston’s go-go pace?
“It’s more of a mindset. If they get three steps on us, we’re in trouble,” Stotts said.
Houston vs. Portland
(Best of 7; x-if necessary)
Game 1: Sunday: at Houston, 6:30 p.m. (TV: TNT)
Game 2: Wednesday: at Houston, 6:30 p.m. (TV: TNT)
Game 3: Friday, April 25: at Portland, 7:30 p.m. (TV: ESPN)
Game 4: Sunday, April 27: at Portland, 6:30 p.m. (TV: TNT)
x-Game 5: Wednesday, April 30: at Houston, TBD
x-Game 6: Friday, May 2: at Portland, TBD
x-Game 7: Sunday, May 4: at Houston, TBD