first off, links to the 3 meetings this year--starting with the MOST recent, and ending with the first meeting:
consistent producers have been:
(Houston) 1. scola, 2. yao, 3. artest, 4. brooks... basically in that order. even before the backcourt change, scola was able to come in and score efficiently. his rebounding numbers have been all over the map, but he has gone 7-10, 5-9, 8-10 for 14, 15, and 16 points (increasing scoring by 1 each consecutive meeting).
(Portland) 1. LMA, 2. Roy, 3. Outlaw, 4... there hasn't been a consistent number 4 in the series for Portland. LMA has 27, 21, and 22 points in the 3 games, for a 23.3/game avg, but he has looked to score about 66 times in order to get those 70 points. rebounds have come steadily for him, with 9, 8, and 9 in the 3 meetings. he's also been a shot blocking machine, with 3, 2, and 3 in the meetings. more on that in a bit.
the shooting of everybody not named Scola or Outlaw. those two have basically been steady, but everyone else has shot pretty poorly for most of the series.
"Coach, PUT ME IN! I CAN HELP!:
the consistently solid +/- guys for each team during the series... drumroll, please...
none. in a freakish twist, guys have basically been all over the map, including Roy and Yao. generally, you would see some sort of a pattern emerge over the course of a series, but no one in this series has been able to really lay claim to being the Rocket/Blazer killer, including LMA, Scola, or Outlaw, who have all managed to put up some form of consistent statistical production otherwise. even the defensive guys have been all over the map, with Batum, Artest, and Battier each having some time to shine with their defensive impact showing up in that column.
"IVAN MAKE BASKET!"--the guys who seem to be doing everything BUT helping their team win...
the consistently *bad* +/- guys...
Aaron Brooks and Sergio Rodriguez have taken turns bleeding their teams out, or at least slowing their momentum. these guys haven't stood out to such a level that they fly off the +/- column and punch you in the face, but they're generally not going to be in a telescope's view of the top of the +/- column. luckily for Portland, Sergio barely racked up minutes in the series.
Mo' Money, Mo' Problems... The Stars:
Roy and Yao each have it very tough in this series.
Yao is forced to contend with 4 very different players guarding him, gets crowded constantly, is fronted a lot, and is generally having to keep his head up to watch out for LaMarcus Aldridge coming over from the weak side. he has rotated *very* well in this series, and has been extremely disruptive. at the same time, it means he's breaking off Scola to make his help rotations, and Scola is a smart motherf**ker... he gets right to the rim when LMA breaks off, and has reaped the rewards.
a notable defensive twist unique to covering Yao... portland frequently fronts him with our C, then brings another big down to cover his back immediately. he spends a lot of time with the fronting defender directly in heavy physical contact, and the bottom side defender in light contact at arm's length--usually to try to remain light on their feet so they can step over to Scola quickly. that has worked very well for much of the series, but... Yao is 7footf**king6, and he has a hook shot. that's generally a recipe for pulling your hair and and screaming if you're an opposing defender.
on the other end, Roy is facing two damn good defenders, and a strong defensive game plan. Houston has gone so far as to keep him guessing by alternating covers on him between Battier and Artest, which has made it a little tricky for us to set up the right sets from the sideline. instead of going with a script of sorts, or being able to set a guy up to get burned, we're having to just try to make things work the old fashioned way. that's not always a fun thing. Houston's help on Roy has been strong. sure, he still gets in the lane--he gets in the lane against EVERYONE, after all--but Houston has done a great job of making him dribble a little too deep before he jumps to the rim, which usually means Yao has had time to interpose himself between Roy and the basket. as a result, Roy is taking very tough shots. he can obviously make them, but he's not getting the finishes he wants, and it shows.
one notable thing about how houston covers Roy differently from other teams (aside from alternating which defender is on him by possessions)... Houston is a bit more aggressive doubling Roy on the *side of the court* than other teams, which has worked out well for them. the usual book against Roy is to meet him with aggressive doubles at the foul line, and to put a hard bump into him there and make him use a secondary move, or alter his path to the basket. generally Portland counters by shifting Roy to the side (for either isos, or side high-screen and rolls, with Roy frequently taking the screen baseline-side), or by 'posting' roy between 8 and 15 feet on one side, and sending everyone else to the weak side. after 1-2 dribbles, the double usually runs in, and we get an easy '3' off the kick and swing pass. against Houston, that hasn't been quite as effective for us. Battier and Artest are contesting the pass very well so that when Roy throws the ball out of the double, it's usually going to the man at the top of the key (as opposed to the opposite 45, etc), and Houston is closing out as the ball arrives in the weak side corner. as a result, Portland has shot .333, .333, and .375 from 3 against Houston, instead of a number closer to their 38% season average. while that may not sound like a significant margin, consider that two of the games were decided by 4 or fewer points.
The Oden Impact (Personal Fouls):
the games have been pretty closely officiated, with Portland racking up a few more fouls over the series.
particular guys who have had foul trouble?
Houston's PFs have committed quite a few as a collective, and unsurprisingly, Roy has drawn a few off his defenders. RonRon has had 3 and 4 in the last two meetings.
on Portland's end, Joel has had some trouble with Yao--no surprise there, and LMA, Roy, and Batum have each been in foul trouble during games. no surprise there, either.. those are our best guys at defensive rotations and help D.
Oden has only played in one game against Houston this year. 4 points, 4 personal fouls, 1 block, 1 steal... 0 rebounds. i can also tell you right off the top of my head that he snarfed TWO dunks in that one game.
All we can really count on are Scola and Outlaw scoring OK, and Yao and Roy facing very intense defenses... and probably shooting poorly.
beyond that, this is a series full of inconsistency, and I'm having a very hard time finding much that lets me feel comfortable making an educated prediction as to the series outcome.
so... my prediction is going to come down to my gut instinct, aided by actually letting my inner homer come out, and lending a lot of faith to HCA...
Blazers in 7.