Game 26 Preview: Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW

The 14-11 Houston Rockets visit the 14-11 (15-10 without referee Scott Foster) Trail Blazers tonight in a battle of Western Conference titans pretty good Western Conference teams. The Rockets are 4-8 on the road, slightly better than the Blazers 3-9, much worse than Portland's 11-2 home record (12-1 without referee Scott Foster). After starting the season a dismal 3-7--suffering under the weight of an impossibly hostile schedule--the Rockets are on a nice little run, winning 11 of their last 15 with Portland, San Antonio, Minnesota, and Denver among their victims.

The Rockets' backcourt is pretty nice. Blazer fans will recall (and no doubt covet) Kyle Lowry and his dismantling of Portland's defense in the last game these two teams played. Though he's struggled with his shot lately this guy's a professional, seasoned as a chronically-underrated backup and now heading his own team...and darn well. He's one of a handful of players in the league who shouldn't be underestimated. His backcourt mate Kevin Martin is an established scorer averaging 19 per game this year. He's looking to rebound from a couple of horrific offensive outings but he's a perpetual threat.

Houston's frontcourt is competent, led by pesky power forward Luis Scola...another guy you underestimate who ends up taking a chunk out of your behind. At 15 and 6 Scola is not exactly lighting the world on fire but he still has it in him. Samuel Delambert provides his usual blocks and rebounds at center. Chandler Parsons is the nominal starting small forward, a jack-of-all-trades and...well, you know the rest. He's actually losing minutes to energetic marksman Chase Budinger and shooting guard Courtney Lee off of the bench. Former Sun Goran Dragic backs up Lowry at the point. Houston is still looking for a reliable big man off the bench, cycling through Jordan Hill, Patrick Patterson, and in their last game Jeff Adrien who posted 9 rebounds in 17 minutes against the Nuggets.

This isn't exactly a world-beating rotation but they're good...dangerous when you catch them on the right night. The name of the game, as we've said already, is to not overlook them. No matter how good or bad they've been in the last decade, the Rockets have proven that you always have to fight them to get past.

Houston's offense is surprisingly efficient considering the patchwork lineup they field, again a credit to Lowry's point guard play. They're right down the middle in shooting percentage, three-point percentage, effective field goal percentage. Their huge downfall is lack of free throw attempts. They're last in the league in that category on a per-game basis. They'll run and they're good in the paint. They just don't get the extra points from the stripe. They're excellent offensive rebounders, however, and the Blazers will have to watch the boards carefully to avoid a repeat of Monday's Oklahoma City debacle.

On the other end the Rockets allow plenty of points in the paint, lacking size and experienced defenders. Delambert will block shots and Scola will fight you but neither is a huge intimidation factor and beyond them Houston is stretching. The Rockets are quite good at stopping the three-ball, however, and they don't foul much. They'll give up basic points but they limit the extras. Their defensive rebounding is adequate. Other than Lowry they're not really threats to steal. Their defense is more position-based than opportunistic or driven by individual skill.

The peril for the Blazers tonight, besides the obvious handicap of playing without Raymond Felton, will be having their heads back in Monday's emotionally-charged game against the Thunder instead of focused on tonight. It's easy to let disappointment and frustration cause you to throw a bad loss after a good one, so to speak. This is especially true when you've had a hard-fought game decided by conditions over which you are powerless and you're having a harder time getting up for your next opponent than you did the last one. Nothing will bring the final seconds of regulation in the Oklahoma City game back, but two losses is a steep price for a moment that technically only cost you one. The Blazers need to focus, play with energy, and get that loss back tonight. If they show the same effort they did on Monday they're going to come away with a win. If they half-bake this game--especially if they aren't aware of the challenges of a Crawford-versus-Lowry matchup (experienced point guard averaging 2 steals per game) and just come out to play "however" instead of to win--then Houston is more than capable of sending Portland home in disgrace.

Check out the Houston view at The Dream Shake.

Here's your Jersey Contest form for the night.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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