News » Rockets-Trail Blazers Preview 2009-10-26

Rockets-Trail Blazers Preview 2009-10-26

Rockets-Trail Blazers Preview 2009-10-26The Portland Trail Blazers have higher expectations after ending a five-season drought without reaching the playoffs.

The Houston Rockets beat Portland in the playoffs last season, but may have set their goals a little lower after learning that All-Star center Yao Ming won't play in 2009-10.

The clubs will open the new season Tuesday night at the Rose Garden with Houston ready for the challenge of playing without its best player.

Houston (53-29) beat Portland (54-28) in six games last season before losing a seven-game conference semifinal series to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. Yao was injured in Game 3, and the Rockets posted two blowout home wins without him to extend the series to a decisive game.

They will have to cope without Yao after the center underwent foot surgery in May. Oft-injured former All-Star Tracy McGrady had microfracture surgery on his left knee last February and is sidelined until midseason.

"The people we're missing are huge pieces," coach Rick Adelman said. "It's one thing when you have Yao on the floor and Tracy, and you have a role that you do. Now, suddenly, we're going to see who's going to step up, see who's going to make the leap, and we need that. We have to have that. It's going to be interesting to watch the team progress."

While losing Yao in the middle is a major blow for Houston, the Trail Blazers feel they will get a big season out of another center with a history of injuries. Greg Oden is set to become the starter at center after coming off the bench in the playoffs last season.

Oden sat out his first season due to microfracture surgery on his right knee and had an inconsistent season in 2008-09, averaging 8.9 points and 7.0 rebounds. The Blazers are hoping a strong preseason for Oden will carry over into the games that count.

"We've got big Greg," All-Star guard Brandon Roy said. "He gets in there and causes a lot of havoc inside. Any time our big men can get tips and hands on basketballs it's only going to help us out. They can get us more shots."

Houston made some major moves to shore up its roster after Ron Artest left to join the Lakers. The Rockets signed Trevor Ariza away from the Lakers and he is expected to pick up the slack for McGrady.

"I can't even explain how excited I am to have an opportunity to expand my game," Ariza said. "That's what every player really wants."

To partially replace Yao's production in the paint, Houston will count on a pair of foreign big men in Luis Scola and David Andersen. Scola averaged 12.7 points and 8.8 boards last season for the Rockets while the slender, 6-11 Andersen was signed in August after a career spent mostly in Europe, including three Euroleague championships between 2001-08.

The Rockets are also counting on getting more from Aaron Brooks, who emerged to average 21.8 points in the games against the Lakers without Yao.

"Aaron has an opportunity," Adelman said. "In the playoffs, he had big games and you want to see where his growth continues. It can't be one game here, one game there. It's got to be consistent, over the course of the season, every game."

Roy averaged 26.5 points in the series against Houston last season after scoring 22.6 points per game in 2008-09 to lead Portland to its highest win total since the 1999-200 club won 59 games and reached the West finals. LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 19.5 points in the playoffs.

The Blazers signed both to extensions - Roy received a five-year deal worth about $80 million and Aldridge signed a five-year contract with incentives will pay him up to $70 million.

Portland also will shift the point guard duties from Roy to veteran Andre Miller, a 10-year veteran who brings needed experience to a roster that was the second-youngest team in the NBA last season.

"I'm just looking forward to the challenge, you know?" Miller said. "I know Portland wants to accomplish a lot of things, and I want to add to that."

Houston has also won six of its last seven regular-season meetings with Portland in addition to its postseason success last season.

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Added: October 26, 2009


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