Robin Lopez, Blazers Utilize Paint Spacing to Beat Rockets 111-104

Portland got revenge on the Rockets 111-104 Thursday night by paying special attention to weaknesses in the Houston paint defense. Despite having one of the best rim protectors in the NBA in Dwight Howard, Robin Lopez finished with 16 points on nine shots, seven of which came within the painted area. Portland moved Lopez laterally when attacking the paint to stretch Howard on defense, and it worked perfectly. Let’s take a look at how the Blazers used one of the Rockets’ strength against them.

Robin Lopez holds the ball on the far high post as Nic Batum runs on a curl.
In this curl pick-and-roll, Lopez holds the ball in the near high post as he waits for Nic Batum to come out of a screen on the baseline.

Lopez hands the ball off to Batum, who drives to the far baseline. Notice how Dwight Howard is playing an ICE pick-and-roll defense even on plays well below the arc.

Lopez rolls off the pick laterally. Look at his feet: he doesn’t dive straight down the lane, instead waiting in the center of the paint making it more difficult for Howard to slide over. Batum then drops a pass between the two defenders.

The Nic Batum and Robin Lopez curl pick-and-roll in action.

Even when Lopez was not part of the primary action on the play, he floated to open space in the paint well and showed just how weak the Houston interior defense can be when Howard is forced to defend ball handlers. On every cut to the basket, Lopez moved to the center of the paint and stayed away from the lane line.

Robin Lopez floats laterally to the center of the lane as Nic Batum drives baseline.

Dwight Howard was glued to the paint (instead of Lopez) all night. Quite frankly, it was surprising that Howard was only called for one defensive three seconds call. The Blazers recognized the opportunity, and made them pay with the man the Rockets least expected.

Lopez runs the same handoff/curl pick-and-roll with Wes Matthews as he did with Nic Batum, rolling backward into the lane as Dwight Howard covers the ball handler.

Portland did what they do best in this game, and that’s adjust. Both teams had a sloppy first quarter, followed by a quick Houston team that made a point to get out on the break in the second quarter. That put the onus on the Blazers coaching staff to make adjustments at halftime, and they certainly did. A nice third quarter was followed by a dominant fourth and the Blazers were able to vindicate themselves at the Moda Center after losing to the Rockets on Nov. 5 116-101.

Up next for Portland: at Philadelphia on Saturday Dec. 14 at 5 PM PST.

Dane Carbaugh

Editor of aYoungSabonis.com. Playbook Breakdowns on BlazersEdge. Newsdesk writer for SB Nation NBA. Follow me at @DaneCarbaugh