Drexler dissects Blazers-Rockets first-round playoff series

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: KYLE GREEN - Ex-Portland/Houston star Clyde Drexler says he expects a 'great' series between the Blazers and Rockets.Besides being a Hall-of-Famer, an NBA champion and a TV analyst for the Houston Rockets, Clyde “the Glide” Drexler has a vested interest in the upcoming first-round Western Conference playoff series between the No. 4 seed Rockets and the No. 5 Trail Blazers.

Drexler spent the first 11 1/2 seasons of his epic 15-year NBA career in Portland and kept a home in Dunthorpe for several years after being traded to the Rockets, with whom he won a title in 1995.

Now 51, Drexler handicaps the matchup in an exclusive interview:

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: How do the teams match up for this seven-game series?

DREXLER: Extremely well. Both teams are young, very athletic and very talented. Both teams deserve to have homecourt advantage. They’re two of the top half-dozen teams in the league, but the West is so tough.

It’s unfortunate Portland just missed and has to go on the road for the first two games. It’s going to be a great series.

TRIBUNE: How important will homecourt advantage be for the Rockets?

DREXLER: Having the homecourt is always good. A visiting team’s starters will do OK anywhere, but your sixth, seventh and eight players generally play better at home. It’s big, but not that big, especially if you can steal one of the first two games.

TRIBUNE: In recent weeks, four of Houston’s five starters — Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley — have missed games due to injury. They were all on hand and played well in the Rockets’ Monday night win over San Antonio that clinched the No. 4 seed. How is their health?

DREXLER: They’re all healthy and ready to go, which is a very good thing for the Rockets. They have to stay healthy if the Rockets are to beat Portland.

TRIBUNE: Houston won three of four games against Portland in the regular season. How much does that mean?

DREXLER: It gives the Rockets a level of confidence, but the playoffs are totally different from the regular season. You wipe the slate clean. It’s all about what you’re doing now. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

TRIBUNE: Portland has won eight of its last nine games going into its regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Clippers. Does that kind of momentum help going into the playoffs?

DREXLER: You always want to be peaking when you’re heading into the playoffs. As it turned out, the Blazers finished the year like they started it. They started so hot; then they had a tough stretch after the All-Star break where they lost eight or nine close games.

Had they not stumbled there, they probably would have been the No. 2 or 3 seed in the West — maybe even No. 1.

TRIBUNE: What do you see as the key individual matchups?

DREXLER: All five matchups between starters are intriguing.

I’ll look first at how Robin Lopez defends Dwight Howard at the center position. That’s a big question, because Dwight’s a major part of the Rockets’ offense.

Small forward is a big one, too, because Chandler Parsons has had some big games against (Nicolas) Batum.

At power forward, Terrence Jones is going to have to do a good job against (LaMarcus) Aldridge, Portland’s best player.

And then there’s shooting guard, where (Portland’s) Wesley Matthews has to try to slow down James Harden. Most teams double- and triple-team James, which allows his teammates to get a lot of open looks.

TRIBUNE: Do you think Portland will try to single cover Harden with Matthews?

DREXLER: At least part of the time. Matthews is a darn good defender. He’s having his best year as a pro. He’s solid offensively, always good defensively, and he’s playing with more confidence than ever before. Matthews takes his defense personally. He competes. I love watching him play.

TRIBUNE: How do you think the Rockets will attack Damian Lillard with Beverley and Jeremy Lin?

DREXLER: Beverley and Lin give Houston a real 1-2 punch at the point. Beverley is one of the better defensive point guards in the league, but Lillard is an All-Star. He knows how to handle pressure.

TRIBUNE: Which team has the better bench, and what difference does it make in the playoffs?

DREXLER: Neither team has a strong bench, but Houston has two players who have been starters for them — Lin and Omer Asik. They’re going to come in and play a pivotal role. Portland has Mo Williams. He’s having a great year, and Thomas Robinson has to play well off the bench, or they may be in some trouble there.

TRIBUNE: Who will win?

DREXLER: My heart is in Portland. I played almost 12 years there. I grew up in Houston. I have two homes. It’s the worst possible series for me. These are my teams. I can’t pick a winner.

TRIBUNE: Clyde ...

DREXLER: (Laughs) I’m going to say I hope the best team wins.

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