Houston Rockets (51-23) at Portland Trail Blazers (36-38)
March 30, 2017, 7:30 PST
Watch: TNT; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Rockets injuries: James Harden (questionable), Ryan Anderson (out), Montrezl Harrell (out)
SBN Affiliate: The Dream Shake
Portland will continue its home-friendly schedule when Houston stops by the Moda Center tonight. Winners in seven of their last eight, the Blazers will attempt to complete their first five-game win streak of the season. Despite being entrenched in the third seed in the Western Conference, the Rockets won’t surrender easily with James Harden’s NBA MVP hopes on the line.
Prior to losing to the Warriors on Tuesday, the Rockets were riding a four-game win streak of their own. Harden is clearly dealing with some wrist discomfort, but it didn’t prevent him from recording a triple-double against Golden State. The MVP hopeful is determined to stay on the court down the stretch, and is capable of getting to the free throw line to supplement his scoring if his shot is altered by his injury.
Alongside Harden, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has a multitude of offensively talented players at his disposal. With Ryan Anderson out, the Rockets have shifted Trevor Ariza into the power forward spot, allowing the offense to maintain its spacing. Houston has shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc in the previous two meetings with Portland, and it will take a serious defensive effort from the home team to prevent it from happening again.
Working in the Blazers’ favor is Al-Farouq Aminu’s health. Portland’s best defender was out for the two November meetings with Houston, and the lack of defense was obvious. The Rockets crossed the 125-point threshold in both contests, but Aminu’s presence should provide some help on that front.
Jusuf Nurkić was a man on a mission in Portland’s victory over Denver on Tuesday, and a similar output will likely be needed if the Blazers want to keep pace with the Rockets’ high-octane offense. It’s important to remember that Nurkić had a rare single-digit points and rebounding effort after torching Philadelphia earlier this month, raising questions over the conditioning of the massive center. After playing consistent minutes since arriving in Portland, those concerns should be minimized.
The Blazers must avoid becoming complacent after passing the Nuggets in the standings, as the margin between the two teams is still thin. Portland is playing its best basketball of the season, which should give them a puncher’s chance against Houston’s impressive attack.