The repetitive nature of the playoffs make adjustments and adaptation a key aspect. When the Portland Trail Blazer’s LaMarcus Aldridge scored 46 points with 18 rebounds in game one of their playoff series with the Houston Rockets, it seemed like a performance that was unlikely to be repeated. Then Aldridge went on to put up another 43 and 8 in game, this time without the benefit of an overtime period. It has left many wondering about why the Rockets, with former defensive player of the year Dwight Howard in the middle, have not been able to adapt and stop the Trail Blazers’ big man yet.
One of the things that separates great offensive players from everyone else is that they can get shots they are comfortable taking when they want to. Conversely, one of the marks of a good defensive player is not necessarily stopping shots from going in, but forcing his man to take more difficult attempts. Through two playoff games against Houston, Aldridge has not only been getting off a high volume of shots he likes, but he has been making any contested shots he has had to take as well. His ability to get where he wants to be has been remarkable, and the defense against him questionable.
Aldridge has taken 24/59 shots in the playoffs from within an eight-foot radius of the basket. Not only are the shots close, but Aldridge has a nice variety of ways to score from that distance. Just counting shots within 16 feet of the basket, the Portland star is scoring 23 points per game.
His shot selection very clearly shows Aldridge likes to work from the left side of the court. Houston has done nothing to force him to the right side. Only 3/59 shots have come from the right. None of this is new information to the Rockets, who faced Aldridge four times during the regular season. In those four contests, Aldridge scored 26.8 points per game, above his season average of 23.2, but hardly the otherworldly totals he has put up in the playoff series.
Houston has had two big, big problems in the series. One is James Harden’s two poor shooting performances. That will probably level off, as the shots he has taken have not been that different than what he did in the regular season. They were simply not falling in the first two games. The other problem is figuring out how to stop Aldridge, and that is something they have to correct very quickly.
What Houston has done is primarily use Terrence Jones against Aldridge. Jones is giving up two inches of height and even more length in wing-span. Aldridge is so far 10/16 shooting in this matchup. When the Rockets have tried to go bigger against Aldridge with Dwight Howard, the Trail Blazers have taken advantage in two ways. Aldridge has been knocking down shots off of the pick and pop with Damian Lillard and Mo Williams. When Howard has instead decided to chase the guard for a block, Aldridge has been able to shoot wide open or drive the ball closer. When the Rockets went small, such at the end of game one, Chandler Parsons had absolutely no chance and Aldridge simply backed him down for an easy shot before a double could arrive.
In game three, look for Houston to play Omer Asik on Aldridge much more. Asik is a good one on one defender in the post and is able to stay in front of Aldridge on the perimeter. The difference between he and Howard is Asik seems much more disciplined in staying with his man, whereas Howard will frequently jump off the chase blocks and rebounds, leaving Aldridge free to shoot and not boxed out to rebound himself. Asik will likely have all of his attention focused on Aldridge. Asik and Howard don’t necessarily mesh well on the offensive end, but that is something the Rockets may have to concede in order to slow the Blazers’ offense.
The Trail Blazers bench kicked it up in game two, and with the series shifting to Portland in game three they have to be considered the favorite. After stealing a pair in Houston, they need only to take two of three games at home to advance. All of the momentum is in their favor, and Aldridge has yet to be solved. Expect this series to end without returning to Houston, as the Trail Blazers should be able to win two of three on their home court against a reeling Rockets squad.
Commentary by Brian Moore