The second round playoff series between the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs is filled with interesting matchups. Mike D’Antoni versus Gregg Popovich. Houston’s wild offense versus San Antonio’s discipline. James Harden versus Kawhi Leonard. There is no doubt that this series is by far the most difficult of the four second round series to predict.
The Rockets are the underdog, and that means that this team must reach to a higher level. Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza have to start hitting threes after being invisible against OkBET
lahoma City. Harden must be more efficient, and Houston must keep up the hustle on the boards and defense which they used to defeat the Thunder. And the Spurs must be slowed down. All of them, and not just Kawhi.
When it comes to those other Spurs, perhaps the biggest challenge is LaMarcus Aldridge. As Kawhi has become the face of the franchise, LaMarcus has been forgotten. He failed to make the All-Star team this year for the first time since 2011, and is averaging his lowest number of points and rebounds since his rookie season.
But while LaMarcus may be forgotten by the NBA, Rockets fans cannot forget when LaMarcus absolutely destroyed the Rockets in the 2014 NBA playoffs. And now, LaMarcus and San Antonio’s other big men will be matched up against Ryan Anderson or Clint Capela with healthy dollops of Nene or maybe even Ariza.
Different matchups, different results
The good news for the Rockets is that they did manage to contain Aldridge in the regular season. Aldridge did not shoot above 40 percent in any of the four games against the Rockets and had a high of just 17 points.
Furthermore, each of the players Houston can throw against LaMarcus poses different problems for the former All-Star. Anderson is slow and has a horrible defensive reputation, but his lack of defensive mobility is not a concern when guarding Aldridge.
And what Anderson lacks in size and speed, he makes up for in effort. Late in this season, he fought with Demarcus Cousins so hard in the post that he injured his ankle and was out for two weeks – and Aldridge is nowhere near the offensive force that Cousins is. Furthermore if Anderson can finally hit the three-pointer, Aldridge could find himself in big trouble on the other end chasing Anderson around.
Nene and Capela will not need to fight as hard, but they are big bodies who can be thrown at Aldridge and keep him off the glass. A good bet would be for them to restrict Aldridge to take tough midrange shots and keep him away from the basket.
Popovich may counter by relying on his other good offensive big men in David Lee and Pau Gasol, and there is no doubt that Houston’s big men would be hard pressed. But that situation could be actually be for the Rockets. First because it keeps the ball out of Kawhi’s hands, and second because Lee and Gasol’s defensive weaknesses can be exploited by Harden on the pick and roll.
This fight against the Spurs will be filled with matchup battles and chess moves, and the fight to contain Aldridge and the Spurs big men will be critical for a Rockets victory. This will require not just execution, but absolute tenacity and a willingness by Houston’s big men to get down and dirty as well as exploiting San Antonio’s defensive weaknesses.