Column: Damian’s dagger through my heart

Basketball fans rejoice! The 2014 NBA Playoffs are well under way and, boy, the games have been wild, controversial and very, very good.

Nearly every game in the first round was a laser-quick shootout or a gritty duel between two teams fighting for their lives; it was glorious. But none of the series was more exciting than the matchup between the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers.

And considering that the Rockets have always been my team, this should be nothing short of amazing. Some of my earliest NBA memories were Hakeem Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake.” A few years after that, I can still remember watching the one-two punch of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady dominate the court and me running outside to practice my dribble drives.

After years of mediocrity, Houston is a contender once again — headlined by James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin. This iteration of the Rockets just might be my favorite. It’s a team that’s all flash and thunder. The Rockets play at a lightning-fast pace, they have no defense, and their game consists of dunks, layups and 3-pointers — all the best parts of basketball. They’re easily the team that is the most fun to watch in the NBA.

And Portland’s Damian Lillard killed the fun with a last-second dagger to send the Rockets back to Space City. The two teams tallied identical 54-28 records during the regular season, and it showed. Half of the games in the series went to overtime and were settled by three points or fewer; the two were dead even.

But it shouldn’t have been. It was going to be close, but every analyst had the Rockets taking the series. The Rockets had the big-time talent to lock it up, and for much of the series they did. Houston held the lead for the majority of each game but somehow managed to choke at the very end. When the game plan is to give the ball to Harden, it’s pretty easy for Portland to figure out what to do. When LaMarcus Aldridge is putting up 40-plus points, maybe it’s time to consider something else. When Lillard is the third-best 3-point shooter in the league, maybe cover him when you’re up by two. But no, the Rockets refused time and time again.

And for all the blockbuster trades, this season ended exactly the same way as last — in Game 6 of the first round. Am I disappointed? Yeah, a little …

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