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Aldridge, Blazers seek 3-0 lead Friday vs. Rockets
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Published: 4/25/2014  at  5:15:00 AM
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NBA Playoffs - Western Conference First Round
Game 3 - Portland leads series 2-0
Tip-off: Friday, 10:35 p.m. ET
Line: Portland -3, Total: 216

The Trail Blazers look to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series on Friday when they return home to host the struggling Rockets.

Houston won the regular season series 3-1, but things have been different in the playoffs in large part because of the teamís inability to stop Portland from scoring. In the first two games of the postseason -- both Rockets home losses -- the Blazers pumped in 117.0 PPG and outshot their opponent in all facets each time. Portland is now 11-1 SU (8-4 ATS) in its past dozen games, including seven straight SU victories, while Houston falls to 2-5 SU (1-6 ATS) in its past seven contests, including three defeats in a row (SU and ATS). The Rockets are a team that relies on shooting from the perimeter, but are making just 42.1% FG, 21.6% threes (11-of-51) and 71.4% FT so far this series. Both of these teams struggled on the defensive end during the regular season, but the Trail Blazers have shown the ability to get the stops when they need to at the end of the game. Houston has been a decent road team this season at 21-20 SU (18-23 ATS), but has enjoyed great success at Moda Center with a 5-2 SU mark (5-1-1 ATS) in the past six games there. Portland is a hefty 31-10 SU at home, but only 19-22 ATS. Both teams have multiple betting trends in their favor for Game 3, as the Rockets are 84-54 ATS (61%) on the road after an upset loss as a favorite since 1996 and 51-26 ATS (66%) on the road after 3+ straight defeats during that same timeframe. But the Blazers are 9-0 ATS off an upset win as a road underdog this season and 23-10 ATS (70%) when playing four or less games in 10 days over the past two seasons. While LaMarcus Aldridge has been the star of the series, the Portland bench played a huge role in Game 2. Houston will have to get a performance similar to that from its bench if it is going to get back into this series.

The Rockets have counted on the perimeter to produce a lot of the points this season, but in Game 2 they went to C Dwight Howard (29.5 PPG, 14.5 RPG, 4.0 BPG in series) early. Howard finished the game with 32 points, but 25 of those came in the first half. He was especially dominant in the first quarter, going 8-of-9 with 19 points. Despite his 14 boards (6 offensive), Howard once again got into foul trouble and could not keep up that pace. For Houston to get back into the series, it will need SG James Harden (22.5 PPG, 5.0 APG, 4.0 RPG in series) to knock down more shots, as he's made just 14-of-47 FG (29.8%) and 5-of-19 threes (26.3%) in the first two games. The Trail Blazers have done a great of making Harden work on the defensive end, while also forcing him to take contested shots. The Rockets also need continued big performances from SF Chandler Parsons (19.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG in series) and PF Terrence Jones (12.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG in series). Both guys have shown the ability to have big games, but Parsons especially has to be that third scorer for the team and shoot better than his 5-of-15 FG in Game 2. If these starting forwards score more, that will help ease some of the pressure on Harden. PG Patrick Beverley (11.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG in series) has really done a great job of playing defense on Damian Lillard. Beverley has the quickness to stay in front of Lillard, and is also the toughest Rockets player. If Beverley is able to keep Lillard contained, his team will have a great chance to win. However, if Lillard is able to penetrate, then the Trail Blazers will be very difficult to beat, as LaMarcus Aldridge is playing as well as anybody in the NBA.

PF LaMarcus Aldridge (44.5 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 2.5 BPG in series) has been an absolute beast in the postseason, becoming the third player in NBA history to score 40 points in consecutive road games (Tracy McGrady and Michael Jordan). Aldridge is a very difficult matchup for the Rockets, as he is shooting 59.3% FG and 81.0% FT in the series. If the Rockets put somebody shorter on Aldridge, he will just shoot over them. However, if they put a bigger player on him, he has the quickness to go by them and finish at the rim. With Aldridge playing so well, it has been forcing the Rockets to have to try many different things on defense. PG Damian Lillard (24.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 8.0 APG in series) has been terrific in his first career playoff series. Even though he struggled from the field in Game 2 (3-of-14 FG), he still dominated the game in many different ways with 11 assists, eight rebouds and a +12 rating. He has been especially strong at the end of the game, going to the line and hitting a lot of free throws (20-of-24 FT in series). SG Wesley Matthews (13.5 PPG, 2.0 SPG in series) and SF Nicolas Batum (10.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.5 SPG in series) have both played well on both ends of the court so far this postseason. SF Dorell Wright (7.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG in 15.5 MPG in series) and PG Mo Williams (8.0 PPG, 38% threes in series) provide the team veteran leadership from the bench, and both had huge performances in Game 2 when they combined for 28 points on 8-of-13 FG (5-of-8 threes). Both teams have relied upon their starters for most of the season, and if the Trail Blazers can get a similar performance from their reserves, this could be a short series.

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