These Houston Rockets (15-7) should strike a palpable amount of fear into the Trail Blazers (18-4), Blazer fans, the city of Portland, Tigard, maybe Gresham too (because what is Gresham if not the Eastside equivalent of Tigard?), the Orange Room at Powell’s, your third favorite barista, and Paul Allen’s second favorite velvet jacket. All the way back in November, the Rockets defeated the Blazers 116-101 in the Moda Center, handling Portland with as much ease as any team not named after the great celestial giver of life. Rockets are man-made devices that can be built to travel to suns though, so think on that. Anyway, that game featured a dominant 29-and-13 performance by Dwight Howard and a 33-point effort from James Harden. With the unpredictable villainy of Howard, his ability to build elaborate booby-traps around the rim to snare Damian Lillard like an ogre snaring a rabbit (a moody ogre), the offensive wizardry of Harden, and his beard’s expressive use of dance to draw sympathetic foul calls from officials, I should be very afraid of a repeat effort from Houston. But I’m not. Or at least, I’m less afraid of that than I am excited about something else.
[Hold on, lemme tie myself down for this next sentence like my man Bill Paxton at the end of Twister.]
That game featured the longest stretches of LaMarcus Aldridge playing center with Dorell Wright at the 4 than any other game this season (!!!!!). Wait; let me tie you down too, Helen Hunt. Terry Stotts even tried to get all nuclear fusion-y with the synapses of the human brain by running the not-again-seen lineup of Lillard, Mo Williams, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Lillard, Mo, Wes, Nico, and LaMarcus. Yes, I know, but I swear I wasn’t on any drugs.
And OBTW in that game, those smaller lineups were the only ones that played relatively well.
Look, I enjoy the traditional lineups of basketball as much as anyone. There’s something that puts a man at ease about watching a team like the Pacers dominate opponents with a perfectly defined point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center. I love watching Stanford play football (sorry Duck fans [sorrynotsorry]) and old Clint Eastwood movies and I miss Boston Market, the way the plate would finish the line with a perfectly separated balance of entrée, two sides, and dessert. In some ways, I feel like the so-called “traditional” basketball lineups are almost more excitingly anti-establishment now, as the entire world (even you, Namibia) embraces “smallball.” Almost.
Horse-and-buggy is cool if you’re romancing a special lady or #BoutThatDickensianLife, but cars are fast and fun to drive and don’t defecate on the street every 10 steps, namsayin? Traditional lineups can be the post-popular domain of old people and basketball hipsters (of which I am admittedly one), but “smallball” has infected the world for good reason. Watching 4 dudes that can handle the rock fly around the court in interchangeable concert with one another, while the tall dude down low can also step outside and hit jumpers, is pretty much the awesomest thing ever. It just so happens that the Blazers have the perfect big to do that in Aldridge, who is an underappreciated post defender and (maybe you’ve heard) a good jump shooter, as well as a plethora of interchangeable wing and backcourt dudes to do the rock handling and flying around.
The circumstances that led to the smaller lineups – foul trouble to Robin Lopez, inactive Joel Freeland due to injury – likely will not impact the Blazers to the extent that they did in the first meeting between the two teams. Additionally, Houston’s reticence to play Omer Asik (the only man moodier than Howard) next to Dwight Howard may actually give the Blazers a perceived advantage in playing two true big men against Howard and whatever sun kissed stretch 4 has the keys to the hearts of Kevin McHale, Daryl Morey, and teenage girls everywhere (looking at you, Chandler Parsons). Plus, Terry Stotts has a good thing going with his lineups, so why mess with it, even for one game? The answer, kids, is because it could be every flavor of awesome and otherwise, all I have is this fear.