The Portland Trail Blazers and LaMarcus Aldridge were relative newcomers to the NBA playoffs. Yet Aldridge and the Blazers have adapted well to playoff pressure, at least better than the Houston Rockets have. After Houston gave up a lead, an overtime win and 46 points to Aldridge in Game 1, it did no better in Game 2 on April 23, as Aldridge only needed 43 points to lead Portland to a 112-105 win in regulation.
The Blazers' second straight win on the road gave them a commanding 2-0 lead going back home. But the Rockets don't seem equipped to stop Aldridge anywhere, as he had 39 points through the first three quarters of Game 2 alone. Dwight Howard came closer to matching him than he did in Game 1, yet his 32 points didn't balance out another ugly game from James Harden, who only went six-of-19 from the floor.
The Rockets had to hang around and try to force overtime, after it was forced upon them in Game 1. However, four late Damian Lillard free throws and a wide open lay-up from Wesley Matthews helped the Blazers seal Game 2 away -- if not the entire series.
Aldridge's showcase, Harden's struggles and the Rockets' lack of clutch play has threatened to turn this series into a blowout. This is the second series of these NBA playoffs to have the road team win the first two games -- and coincidentally, both series' have a No. 5 seed besting a No. 4 so far.
Houston was designed to challenge the Western Conference and NBA elite the minute Howard arrived, and it looked like it had paid off during the regular season. Meanwhile, Portland had far lower expectations and snuck up on the West this year, yet Houston has been caught off guard and then some.
If the Blazers can keep this up, they can rest for the second round and hope that the San Antonio Spurs run into more trouble against the Dallas Mavericks. Portland can even dare to hope for a Dallas upset and home court for the next round, although it could well beat anybody if Aldridge doesn't come down to Earth too much later in the playoffs.
The Blazers still have to finish the Rockets off first, and it can take another big step in Game 3 at Portland on April 25.