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Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Preview

The Trail Blazers head to Houston for a meet-up tonight with James Harden and the Rockets.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (7-5) at Houston Rockets (6-5)

Nov. 17, 2016, 5:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW, NBA TV; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Festus Ezeli (out), Al-Farouq Aminu (out)
Rockets injuries: Patrick Beverly (probable)
SBN Affiliate: The Dream Shake

After a demoralizing 113-88 home loss to the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, the Portland Trail Blazers kick off a five-game road trip tonight against the Houston Rockets.

Houston, fresh off of a 105-103 loss of its own to the Oklahoma City Thunder, will be looking to bounce back behind the stellar play of James Harden. The All-Star guard, now playing point guard for coach Mike D’Antoni, is putting up crazy numbers this year, averaging 30 points, eight rebounds, and nearly 13 assists per game.

While the positional move was questioned this summer, with Harden’s ability to handle the ball and get to his spots at will, it makes sense to give him the ball full-time. Harden’s usage rate is currently at 33.7 percent, and shows no sign of decreasing in D’Antoni’s run-and-spread offense.

Joining Harden on the court are two former New Orleans Pelicans, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. Gordon, not nearly the athletic slasher he was before battling chronic knee injuries, has transformed into a knock-down 3-point shooter, connecting on nearly 42 percent of his attempts from distance. Anderson, always considered one of the elite shooting stretch-fours in the NBA, is knocking down 41 percent of his 3-point looks for good measure.

Small forward Trevor Ariza is having another typical, if not flashy season, putting up just under 13 points per game with efficient shooting. Notably, Ariza has done a great job with his hands in the passing lanes this year, averaging more than two steals per contest.

Replacing Dwight Howard in the middle is promising youngster Clint Capela. Splitting time with veteran Nene Hilario, Capela is putting up 10 points and eight rebounds per game while not requiring many, if any, plays run for him. Capela is adept at putting back offensive rebounds and finishing on the lob, so Portland may have its hands full in that regard.

After a loss to the Chicago Bulls that appeared to be partially effort-related, the Trail Blazers need to bounce back quickly. A long road trip can get out of hand in a hurry if a team isn’t careful, and Houston makes its money with movement and tempo - two things Portland has struggled against at times this season. If the Blazers think they had a hard time keeping 34-year-old Dwyane Wade out of the paint, they’ve got another thing coming to them in Harden.

Perimeter defenders are going to need to stick with their opponents like glue, as Harden is very adept at sucking in the defense on a drive and then either drawing the foul or kicking out to one of his supporting teammates rotating on the perimeter. The Blazers’ game plan should be simple: play defense as straight up as possible, value possessions by avoiding careless turnovers, and don’t allow Houston extra opportunities.

The Rockets are not a good defensive team, by nature of having Harden, Gordon, and Anderson in a D’Antoni system. However, if the Blazers put forth the same effort they did on Tuesday night, especially on defense and going after rebounds, they are going to have a tough time starting off this road trip on the right foot.

Blazer’s Edge Night 2017

Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!