- David Thorpe, NBA
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Portland continues to show how pragmatic it is as a group. Although collectively young, the Blazers figure things out from game to game -- and in impressive fashion. By dominating the defensive backboards and getting the ball to their best scorers continuously, they forced a Game 6. And it's fair to expect a very tight game, and a potential Game 7 back in Oregon.
• A big reason Portland had such a big fourth quarter was its ability and willingness to attack gaps in Houston's defense. The Blazers' aggressive actions created fouls and opened up shooters. The Rockets' on-ball defense has to stiffen, at least somewhat, to take some pressure off the help defenders.
• Defending LaMarcus Aldridge was a challenge again, as he has the talent to make tough jumpers. The best plan might be to crowd him and force the drive, then run a guy such as Shane Battier to him and make him be a passer. Ron Artest could be that helper, too, as long as he's not on Brandon Roy.
• Incredibly, Roy and Aldridge took 40 of the 72 Portland shots. An easy Rockets plan will be to change that ratio a good degree toward less than half of the overall shots. Smart help, quick rotations, early pickups in transition all will help in that plan. If they are going to lose Game 6, it cannot be because Aldridge and Roy shot them out.
• Offensively, Houston took just 10 free throws. Being at home, it's fair to expect a rise in free throw attempts. But Houston has to plan on earning them. Seeing Yao Ming making aggressive post moves would help, and sending cutters off of him would, too. In essence, taking a page from Portland's slash-to-the-rim mentality is the idea.
• Houston can start the game with a lot of energy but should resist trying for the knockout punch early by simply launching a bunch of 3-point attempts. The Rockets might be very nervous, to be sure, but trusting in their system is the answer. Forget about words like "choke" and phrases like "Game 7" and just focus on the task at hand. This is when leadership must make its mark, from the coaches and from the veterans.
• The energy early inside the arena could play a big part in this game, so seeing Roy as a scorer first and foremost is a fair expectation. It's on him, and Aldridge to a lesser extent, to help the Blazers withstand early momentum issues.
• Luis Scola continues to be a big problem. Aldridge is too concerned as a helper and is constantly roaming off Scola. Not only is this a problem because of his shooting ability but don't forget his seven offensive rebounds in Game 4. Better to get help from the point guard or off Artest than off Scola. Helping on Scola when he backs down Nicolas Batum might have to happen, as well, if Scola tries to take on a bigger scoring load. He has been the Rockets' best offensive player in this series.
• The Blazers will continue to crowd Yao and try to keep him from getting deep position on post-ups at any time. The strategy is working.
• Portland will want to stay aggressive on defense, looking for blocks and steals. But the Blazers want to be a bit more disciplined in that regard, hoping to avoid five-on-four situations. On the road, those ratios are a recipe for foul trouble.
• Greg Oden is an effective ball-screen guy, except when he keeps moving on them as the Rockets defender goes under him when defending Steve Blake. Oden needs to slow down and avoid that foul, which is a needless turnover. Keeping turnovers low in this game is paramount for Portland. The Blazers will need as many shots as possible against this defense.
• Aaron Brooks has made just 10 of his past 36 shots in this series. But he carried the Rockets to their explosive Game 1 win. If he is on from 2 or 3, Houston's offense can kick into a new gear.
• Von Wafer has had a quiet series but is a fearless player. He can heat up fast and quickly provide a big margin for the Rockets in the second half.
• Rudy Fernandez had a great Game 3 in Houston and might get more playing time in Game 6. He has the potential to be a great equalizer.
• If the game is allowed to be physical on both sides, which Game 6s often are, will the Blazers be able to dominate the offensive glass?
In most respects, this kind of game is pretty easy to go with the home team playing a close-out game. But Portland is grittier and more talented than most of the NBA's teams and, with Roy, has a chance in anyone's arena. On the other hand, this Houston team is loaded with strong chemistry and great defense, so unless something happens to destroy that chemistry, the Rockets should be able to pull out the clinching win.
Prediction: Houston wins Game 6.
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. and the executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European and D-League players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.
Scouts Inc. breaks down Game 6 of the Western Conference first-round series between the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers and picks the winner.