NBA Houston Rockets

5 Ways The Houston Rockets Can Guarantee A First-Round Win

5 Ways The Houston Rockets Can Guarantee A First-Round Win

Dwight Howard Kevin McHale Houston Rockets
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets will open the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers in what should be one of the West's most exciting series. Both teams play an entertaining, fast-paced style that emphasizes transition scoring and generating open three-point opportunities. The teams are also very similar statistically, making for a tightly contested matchup.

Here are five ways the Rockets can edge the Blazers in the series.

5. Cut Down On Turnovers

Jeremy Lin Houston Rockets
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

5. Cut Down On Turnovers

Jeremy Lin Houston Rockets
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets average 16.2 turnovers per game, second most in the NBA. In particular, James Harden struggles to maintain possession of the ball. Harden averages 3.6 turnovers per game, which ranks as the second highest mark among players who have played in at least 70 games this season. Houston will need to protect the ball against Portland to avoid allowing steals that lead to easy transition buckets.

4. Make Shots At The Rim

Dwight Howard Houston Rockets
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

4. Make Shots At The Rim

Dwight Howard Houston Rockets
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets are very effective at scoring close to the basket. In fact, they rank second in the NBA with 21.2 field goals made per game within five feet of the rim. Conversely, the Blazers are one of the best teams in the NBA at defending shots around the rim. Portland's opponents make just 55.1 percent of these shots, the third lowest percentage in the league. The Rockets will need to convert their opportunities around the hoop to advance.

3. Get To The Foul Line

James Harden Houston Rockets
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

3. Get To The Foul Line

James Harden Houston Rockets
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets take and make the most free throws per game in the NBA. Houston's ability to get to the line is fueled by Harden and Dwight Howard, who combine for more than 18 free throw attempts per game. Houston must continue aggressively attacking the rim and drawing fouls in their series against Portland. Not only will they benefit from shooting free throws, but they will also put the Blazers in foul trouble.

2. Win The Three-Point Battle

Chandler Parsons Houston Rockets
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

2. Win The Three-Point Battle

Chandler Parsons Houston Rockets
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Both the Rockets and Blazers average 9.4 made threes per game. Harden, Jeremy LIn and Chandler Parsons all shoot more than 35 percent for Houston, while Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews both shoot more than 39 percent for Portland. One way the Rockets can defeat the Blazers is by winning the three-point matchup. Not only does this involve getting open looks offensively, but also running Portland's shooters off the three-point line on defense.

1. Outshine Their Stars

James Harden Dwight Howard Houston Rockets
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

1. Outshine Their Stars

James Harden Dwight Howard Houston Rockets
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

NBA playoff games and series are often decided by the star players on each team. In this series, Houston will need Dwight Howard and James Harden to outduel Portland's Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. One decisive advantage Houston's pair has is playoff experience. Howard and Harden have combined to play in 110 playoff games, while Aldridge has played in only 18 and Lillard none.