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Monday, April 27, 2009
Houston's Figure Four

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

After getting burned by Yao Ming for seven field goals in the first quarter of Game One, Portland has shifted its defensive course, devoting a lot more attention to Yao ever since. For most of the past three games, Portland has deployed what Doug Collins referred to Sunday night as a "sandwich” – one defender fronting Yao (usually Portland's center, Joel Przybilla or Greg Oden), and one playing behind him on the block (usually the power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge). Even when that sandwich has been open-faced, Aldridge hasn't veered too far away from Yao down low.

Luis Scola

The strategy has allowed the Blazers to contain Yao reasonably well (14 FGMs in the past 15 quarters), but it puts a lot of pressure on the rest of Portland's defense. With Steve Blake picking up Aaron Brooks as the Rockets get into the offense, that leaves only two Portland defenders to essentially zone up on the remaining three Rockets -- one of which is Houston's power forward, Luis Scola (and his backup, Carl Landry).

Scola and Landry teamed up for ten buckets Sunday night, the majority of which were the direct result of Portland's defensive focus on Yao. This left the Houston 4s to find space and opportunities on the floor to make the Blazers pay.

Here's a sampling of the kinds of shots Scola was able to get and convert Sunday night:

It would be unfair to ignore Carl Landry's fourth quarter basket at the 2:30 mark that gives the Rockets a four-point lead. Much like Scola, Landry finds himself unmanned by the Blazers, and flashes to the top of the key where he gets an identical pass from Battier.

Landry's shot is huge -- as are Scola's -- and it goes to underscore how important the 4 is in the Rockets' offense. So long as Yao serves as the focal point of the opposing defense, Houston's power forward is in the spotlight. How well he cuts, shoots, and uses all that open space the defense gives him will go a long way toward determining how far into spring the Rockets will be playing this year.

(Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)