4) Houston Rockets vs. 5) Portland Trail Blazers (3-1 Rockets)
I know I already made a "Star Wars" reference in my Grizzlies-Thunder preview, and you'd think it'd be hard to dislike any team as much as OKC, but what can I say? The Force is strong in this one.
James Harden and Dwight Howard? On the same team? What, did KG not get the memo?
In fact, let's refresh my All Least-Favorite (ALF) team before the playoffs.
C Dwight Howard
PF Blake Griffin
SF James Harden (Yes, I'm playing him at SF. What's wrong with that?)
SG Dwyane Wade
PG Chris Paul
C Serge Ibaka
PF LeBron James (my ALF coach Scotty Brooks loves going small with his bench)
SF Kevin Durant
SG Ray Allen
PG Russell Westbrook
C Kendrick Perkins
G Derek Fisher
Is that a lineup or what? Garnett doesn't even make the team anymore. He's too pathetic to dislike. We might need to bring Skip Bayless on a special podcast with Bill Simmons to debate this.
Anyway, since the West is sorely lacking in upsets so far, I'll take the plunge and pick the Blazers. Why not? I think Damian Lillard has enough quicks to get past Patrick Beverley, who returned recently from a meniscus tear. LaMarcus Aldridge, who's had his own injury issues, is a bit too big for Terrence Jones to handle and too quick for Howard in space.
(Howard in space... have fun with that one.)
Nicolas Batum v. Chandler Parsons might be the best match-up of the first round, two guys who will absolutely bring out the best or worst in one another. Wesley Matthews against Harden meanwhile might be ultimate I-score-you-score pairing. There are gonna be a TON of threes launched in these games, enough to make the Spurs-Mavs and Warriors-Clippers series blush.
I like Portland's bench just a bit more. Give me Mo Williams, Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright over Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Francisco Garcia. More to the point, it's probably the Spurs fan in me, but give me Williams over all of them. Asik is a great shot-challenger, but going inside isn't really Portland's thing, so he and Howard's biggest strengths are negated. Houston's perimeter defense, meanwhile, is dreadful.
Mainly I give the Blazers a good shot here because I trust their guys more to keep their heads, I think they have a legit home court advantage --especially if they return to Rip City with a 1-1 split for Games 3 and 4 and then a 3-2 lead for Game 6-- and the bottom line is I don't believe that Howard has all of a sudden become a different guy mentally. When the chips are down, he'll fold, like he's always done. Free throws will be clanked, pick-and-roll coverages will be blown, fouls will be called and through it all he'll whine and gesture and cuss and mope, everything everyone else's fault but his own.
Somewhere along the way Harden and Parsons will come to the same panicked realization: "Man, this guy's a loser." The thought will click in for coach Kevin McHale and GM Daryl Morey too, but it's gonna be too late. They're doomed. They're all doomed.
Also, the Rockets commit a crazy amount of turnovers and that's probably going to bite them sooner rather than later. Portland is the third-most turnover conscious team in the league, while Houston gave it up as often as anyone besides the tankastic Sixers.
If nothing else, the Portland hipsters will have fun with Howard and Harden, who are just like the cast of Portlandia, except that they're basketball players and I've never seen Portlandia and I have no idea what it's about. I know Fred Armisen's in it and I don't care for him. He's not the Dwight Howard or James Harden of comic personalities, exactly, but somewhere in the Mike Miller neighborhood, just somebody I can do without.
I don't know what 's going to happen, but I want the Rockets to fail and fail spectacularly. Not because I fear them but more because it would just be hilarious.
Fun Fact: I really enjoyed Robin Lopez' work in Encino Man.
Prediction: Blazers in six.