The NBA Playoffs continue with two series that have the higher seed in big trouble: The Houston Rockets playing against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Chicago Bulls facing the Washington Wizards in game 3, both down by two games to nothing. In a 1-1 series, the Toronto Raptors hit the road as the face off with the Brooklyn Nets.
The Rockets, unlike other 0-2 teams, are under the biggest pressure to get something out of Portland. As James Harden said, they’re playing for their season in game 3. Kevin McHale had himself home court advantage and two stars in Dwight Howard and James Harden. But he hasn’t been able to make them play like a team, has marginalized key players who could have helped him and defense in nowhere to be seen.
For the Blazers, Aldridge has been in a different stratosphere so far, but Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews finding open spots for them against the no-defense presented by the Houston Rockets has been just as important. The ability to keep Harden away from the line and not letting him having his way as he drives to the basket has made the Rockets’ offense look bad. If lobbing to Dwight Howard is all their opponents have left, they’ll live with that.
In Washington, the Bulls aren’t under the same pressure. Tom Thibodeau dealt with injuries and key players being traded away, but managed to turn his group of players into a better team for it. No one expected to be down 0-2 after two games in Chicago, but the Bulls don’t change that much when they’re on the road. Defense is defense anywhere, and not having to rely on shooting doesn’t make their case for a comeback so bad.
But they do need to start getting stops. Nene has been having his way with Joakim Noah and Bradley Beal got the best of Jimmy Butler in game 2, as the Bulls, usually an excellent team when defending pick & rolls and screens in general, failed in their plan of giving the Wizards the mid-range jump shot. There are quite a few limitations on what Thibs can do with this squad, but whatever rabbit he has left to pull out of a hat, he better use it now.
Finally there is what seems to be the most even series in these playoffs: Raptors and Nets. Two very different teams in how they want to win and how they go about getting it. Plenty of attention is going to Masai Ujiri and his F@#$ Brooklyn rally call before game 1, and how the Nets’ home fans will react to what he had to say. It’s more important for the Nets to play like they did late in the season at home, winning 15 consecutive games.
It’ll be about slowing the game down. If Kyle Lowry can get around screens and get DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross into decent shots instead of contested ones, it’ll be a tough night for the Nets, who won’t be able to run with them. Slowing down Jonas Valanciunas, who has been having a very dominant series so far against anyone the Nets put on him, is a big key as well. Going back to basics and posting up with their three perimeter players: Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Paul Pierce, hoping their size advantage and smarter offense works out nicely.