SI.com's NBA writers debate the biggest playoff question of the day. Today, we examine ...
Which skidding team is more likely to fall into an 0-3 hole Friday: the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets?
Lee Jenkins: Rockets. Portland’s home-court advantage will be oppressive, and the Rockets have no one to match up with LaMarcus Aldridge. The Rockets knew Aldridge would put them in a difficult position -- he’s too agile for their centers, too physical for their power forwards – but he’s single-handedly controlled the series and there’s no reason to believe his dominance will cease. This isn’t to say the Rockets are finished. They could win a Game 3 shootout if James Harden shakes out of his playoff doldrums. But their defense, outside of Patrick Beverley and Dwight Howard, is disconcerting. The situation in Chicago is virtually the reverse. The offensively challenged Bulls have no margin for error, and yet, you could have said the same thing about them for the past two years. They always respond, always find a way, and anybody who thinks they will just hobble off into the abyss hasn’t been paying attention.
Chris Ballard: Bulls. The Bulls overachieved all year, maxing out their talent. It was a testament to Tom Thibodeau's coaching and Joakim Noah's effort that they made the playoffs, let alone got a No. 4 seed. Unfortunately for the Bulls, once other teams crank it up in the playoffs, they have no higher level to go to. They're already there. When you're relying on D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich, your cupboard is bare. Position by position, the Wizards are just more talented. Meanwhile, the Rockets have plenty of talent, and have played below their level of capability -- especially Harden. They've got a bigger upside right now.
Phil Taylor: Bulls. Both teams are in big trouble, but Chicago has more reason to be concerned. In the Houston-Portland series, the Rockets can at least realistically believe that things will turn -- Aldridge can't play any better and Harden can't shoot any worse. But the Bulls don't have any obvious answers for Washington. The problems they had in the first two games -- mainly the inability to handle the overall athleticism of the Wizards, especially in the backcourt -- aren't likely to go away. The Bulls deserve a world of credit for getting as far as they have with a limited roster, but they have run into a talented, hungry team that now smells blood.
Ben Golliver: Rockets. The regular-season numbers suggested that both of these series would be tighter than tight and that's exactly how it has played out. The challenges facing Houston are steeper: Portland is a stronger home team than Washington (31-10 compared to 22-19) and Friday will mark the first home playoff game in the Rose City since 2011. Blazermaniacs are riding a wave of emotion right now, and the Moda Center will be a difficult place to play. Past that, Rockets coach Kevin McHale is faced with the unenviable task of finding a way to slow down the red-hot Aldridge while not opening up the floodgates for the Blazers' many shooters. Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and even Damian Lillard, who had a nice Game 1, are all sleeping giants from the outside right now. It will take a much, much better showing from Harden for the Rockets to avoid the 0-3 hole.
Rob Mahoney: Bulls. Resilient as this team is, I wonder where Chicago might find the means to create separation from the Wizards in Game 3. It's not as if offense will come more easily with desperation; there is no source of scoring that has yet gone untapped, and if anything players like Augustin and Taj Gibson have already outperformed offensive expectations. Even Chicago's vaunted team defense has largely held form in this series. Washington simply has the tools and -- in a bit of a surprise -- the tactical discipline to layer action over action until something breaks through. All of that said, the Wizards' sharp play has earned only two close, contested wins -- enough to put a quality opponent on the ropes and nothing more. One would expect every game left in this series to remain competitive, as the Bulls are both too resilient and too close a match for the Wizards to allow for anything less.
Matt Dollinger: Rockets. The Blazers are starting to once again resemble the dominant team that sat atop the Western Conference for much of the first half of the season. Counting the playoffs, Portland has won 11 of its last 12 games, led by the hot hand of Aldridge. Houston, meanwhile, has dropped eight of 13 and appears to be headed in a different direction. You know it's not a good sign when Dwight Howard is the one urging his teammates to "stay positive." Howard has been having his lunch handed to him by Aldridge (he's not alone there), and Harden is 14-of-47 from the field (29.8 percent) in two games. The Rockets can't win if Howard and Harden continue to struggle like this on one end of the floor or the other.
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