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8th and 9th Western Conference Seeds Collide as Blazers Visit Houston

The Houston Rockets sport young talent, score a billion points per game, sit right ahead of the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference standings, have it out for Portland because of past losses, and have weaknesses the Blazers might exploit. Buckle up for this one!

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In what is sure to be one of the more interesting games of their current road trip, if not the season, the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Houston Rockets tonight in a game beginning at 5:00 p.m. Pacific, televised locally on CSNNW.

The "interesting" part comes from several factors. First and foremost, the Blazers and Rockets are right up against each other in the standings. Houston sits at 27-24 entering this game, the Blazers at 25-24, a game behind. Even better, the space between them differentiates the 8th and 9th seeds in the Western Conference, the post-season demarcation line. Plus the Rockets have already lost twice to the Blazers this season, both games going to overtime. It's a fair bet that the Blazers have Houston's undivided attention for this contest.

The Rockets are on an upswing, having won 6 of their last 9 after a disastrous 7-game slide in mid-January. The Blazers are catching them at or near their best, lamenting their 8th-seed standing while the Blazers would give their left arms to hold the same spot.

Houston's best involves point scoring. Lots and lots of point scoring. Only the Nuggets and Thunder can lay claim to being as prolific as the Rockets. They're averaging 106 per game and 109 is the least they've scored in their last half-dozen outings. Those outings included 119 against the Nets, 125 against the Jazz, and 140 against the Warriors. I know Golden State lets you play fast, but sheesh. 140 points in regulation is sick.

Unsurprisingly the Rockets play at a higher pace than anybody in the league. But they're not just chucking and ducking. They rank 5th in offensive efficiency, 4th in effective and true shooting percentages. They're 2nd in fast break points, 3rd in points in the paint scored per game. They're 8th and 9th in field goal and three-point percentages, 5th in free throws drawn. Name a way to score and they can do it.

The most impressive thing about this production is that they're doing it with one big scorer and a bunch of nice players. James Harden averages 26 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds per game, staking his claim as one of the scariest shooting guards in the league, heading into Kobe Bryant territory. Second-year small forward Chandler Parsons is having a good year, shooting 47% while giving 14 points and 6 rebounds per game. (Don't fall asleep on him. He's an interesting matchup for Nicolas Batum.) Jeremy Lin's at 12.5 points and 6 assists. Patrick Patterson 10 points, Carlos Delfino 10 as're not seeing ostentatious firepower here. But they've somehow found a chemistry that allows them to stretch their individual abilities into sweet looking offense.

The only flaw in their offensive game is a serious propensity to turn over the ball...a category in which they're worst in the league. That'll be an item the Blazers want to underline.

Defense is another story, the best explanation (along with occasional injuries) as to why they're an 8th-place team and not among the league elite. Omer Asik is having a nice season defensively but for the most part they're just OK...good rebounders, not much more. Even adjusting for pace they're not great in transition. They're pretty good stopping paint points--one of their two relative strengths--but they don't get out to the three-point arc. While their individual defense is spotty they do a decent job of playing the passing lanes, generating steals and allowing relatively few assists.

Personally I've been looking forward to this game more than any of the recent ones. The matchups, the situation, the history, the matching of strengths and weaknesses, and the possibility of a huge offense-fest...these make things exciting even if the Blazers might end up on the wrong side of that triple-digit score. This could end up being a blowout for Houston but if it's not it should be a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

TheDreamShake is not just an iconic move, it's a dang good Houston Rockets site. Although it does sound like something one would have ordered at Farrells, probably getting an embarrassing song sung as it was delivered.

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--Dave (