Ken Berger: ‘Rockets And Blazers Most Intriguing Series’

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HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 23: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the Portland Trail Blazers celebrates a play on the court in the second half of the game against the Houston Rockets in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center on April 23, 2014 in Houston, Texas.

(Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Both Portland and Washington surprised the NBA world – shocked is more like it – by winning their first two playoff games this past week against Houston and Chicago, respectively.

It’s usually not that surprising for a 5-seed to beat a 4-seed, but for a 5-seed to beat a 4-seed on the road? Twice?

Yeah, that’s surprising.

But which is more surprising?

“Well, let’s take the Rockets and Blazers first; that, to me, is the most intriguing one,” NBA insider Ken Berger said on The John Feinstein Show. “I picked Portland in six, so I’m not surprised that they’re in the series. I am surprised that they won the first two at Houston. I didn’t think that would be possible. I figured they’d win one.”

LaMarcus Aldridge has been a beast for the Blazers, scoring 46 points in a 122-120 overtime win in Game 1 and 43 points in a 112-105 win in Game 2.

“I like the match-ups for them,” Berger said of the Blazers, “and I kind of used the theory with Houston that it’s very difficult to just assemble a team (and win right away). It usually takes a couple of runs in the playoffs before a team will hit its stride. Houston’s not hitting its stride at all. They can’t get out of their own way. So it surprises me the way the Blazers are dominating that series.”

Dwight Howard and James Harden have struggled through two games. They each scored 27 points in Game 1, but they shot a combined 17-of-49 (34.7 percent) from the floor. Harden, in fact, shot just 8-of-28 (28.6 percent).

Harden struggled again in Game 2, finishing with 18 points on 6-of-19 shooting (31.6 percent). Howard, meanwhile, scored 32.

“(For) the Rockets, it’s gut-check time and kind of find-your-identity time,” Berger said. “They got to figure out if they’re going to ride Dwight Howard back into this series (or) if they’re going to try to get the ball in James Harden’s hands and hope that he can get out of his slump.”

While Berger at least picked the Blazers to win their series, the same cannot be said for the Wizards, who have eked out two close wins at the United Center.

“I think – like a lot of people – kind of just overlooked the Wizards,” Berger said. “I was so impressed with Chicago and how well they played without Derrick Rose this year, how in tune they are defensively, how they actually got better defensively after trading Luol Deng and was so impressed with the job that Tom Thibodeau has done. I think I forgot to take a look at the Wizards. That’s a team that’s playing really good basketball. Their backcourt is really tough to handle.

John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 29 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds in Game 1 and for 42 points, nine assists and 12 rebounds in Game 2.

“Theres a couple of things you need in the NBA playoffs,” Berger said. “You have to be able to defend, and you have to have guys who can create their own shot and get into the paint and create havoc, get the defense on the move. And certainly John Wall and Bradley Beal do that.”

Elsewhere in the East, Charlotte has played Miami tough through two games but still finds itself in an 0-2 hole.

“If not for the Al Jefferson situation with his foot injury, this might be a different series,” Berger said. “The reality is the Heat are just going to wear them down. I don’t know if it’s going to be four games or five, but without Al, to me, they don’t have much of a chance.”

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