Game 5 between the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers is tonight, which means I’ve already started chasing Tums tablets with Mylanta in order to quell the sickening feeling of dread that has taken hold of my stomach. Yes, “my” Blazers are up 3-1 in the series, LaMarcus Aldridge is playing at a level normally not seen outside of NBA Hangtime, and Damian Lillard is proving to be so clutch we should start calling him “Purse” — Ed. note: No, we really, really shouldn’t — but when one of your formative basketball memories is Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, when the Blazers had a 15-point lead before abunchofthingshappenedIdon’twanttotalkabout #repressedmemories, you’re conditioned to always assume the worst.
You don’t just treat the half-full glass as half-empty; you assume the water is poisoned.
To exorcise my demons of doubt, I’ve decided it’s best to lay all my darkest fears out in the open. Hey, I’ve ruined plenty of top-quality birthday wishes by expressing them aloud, so I figure the same principle should apply to apprehensions. Perhaps you think that’s nothing more than a bunch of superstitious mumbo-jumbo, but just know Dorell Wright would be on my side, and his last means he can never be rong.
Anyway, here are my five fears for Game 5.
1) LaMarcus Aldridge suffers a devastating knee injury
Hey, Portland fans, have you checked your calendars (or hipster-y sundials) recently? If so, you’re probably aware the Trail Blazers are just about due for a star player to suffer a catastrophic knee injury, and Aldridge is the shiniest, twinkliest star in the NBA galaxy right now.
Outside of a couple minor setbacks, the Trail Blazers on the whole were remarkably injury-free during the regular season — not bad for a team whose starters played an absurd number of minutes — and the streak of good luck has to run out at some point — them’s the rules when it comes to the NBA gods and Portland, after all — so why not have that streak come to an end, say, during the final possession of the fourth quarter with the Trail Blazers down by one?
If Aldridge’s left patella explodes out of his skin like one of the chestbusters from Alien, I won’t even try to feign shock. It’s inevitable.
2) James Harden catches fire (figuratively)
Harden is averaging 27.5 points per game this series, but he’s had to average 25.8 field goal attempts per game to do so. I’m not big into the whole FiveThirtyEight numerology craze, but I’m pretty sure Harden’s shooting/scoring has been what analytics experts call — and correct me if I’m using the wrong sorcery terminology — “inefficient.”
Harden and his glorious beard past due for a breakout game — this performance against Portland comes to mind — and with all due respect to Wesley Matthew’s stellar defense, Portland has been pretty lucky Harden hasn’t caught fire yet in this series. Speaking of which…
3) Damian Lillard catches fire (literally)
Accidental self-immolation comes with the territory of having such hot bars.
4) Mo Williams does something crazy
If you relish unpredictability and don’t care one iota about your cardiovascular health, having Mo Williams on your teams is pretty awesome. Will he make a jaw-dropping, game-saving play? Will he take a terrible three in transition? Will he unleash an errant alley-oop into the stands, or will he hit the cutter with a beautiful behind-the-back pass? Will he instigate a brawl with, in order of likelihood, an opposing player, the opposing team’s mascot, or a vengeful ghost only he can see? You never know what you’re going to get when Mo Williams steps onto the court, which makes him like a box of chocolates (man, someone should turn that into a sappy movie line). After he was the hero of Game 4, it’s easy to imagine Mo Williams being the goat in Game 5, costing the Trail Blazers the win with a combination of ill-advised threes, offense-stalling dribbling displays, and pointless technical fouls.
5) Robin Lopez fouls out early. Joel Freeland, playing extended minutes in place of Lopez, tweaks his knee with about 20 seconds remaining in the game and is forced to go to the locker room for evaluation. The Rockets are ready to inbound the ball. Because Harden and Chandler Parsons haven’t been shooting well, the Rockets have been relying on Dwight Howard, who has put together a full-game performance similar to the opening minutes of Game 2. Everyone in the arena knows the final possession will run through him. Terry Stotts scans his bench, looking for someone to guard Howard. An icy feeling spreads throughout his body. He gulps. “Meyers Leonard,” he says, “it’s all on you. You’re our only hope. If you can’t stop Howard on this possession, we lose the both game and all our momentum in the series. Now get in there and GET US A STOP.”
Oh god, please don’t have Game 5 come down to Meyers Leonard being Portland’s only hope.