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Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Preview

The Blazers face another tough Western Conference foe on the road.

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (22-18) vs. Houston Rockets (28-11)

Wednesday, January 10th - 5:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (UPDATE: questionable)
Rockets injuries: James Harden (out), Luc Mbah a Moute (out), Nene Hilario (day-to-day)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: The Dream Shake

The Blazers head to Houston on the second of a back-to-back after beating the Thunder 117-106 in Oklahoma City Tuesday night. Portland will face a 28-11 Rockets team that holds the second seed in the Western Conference. Damian Lillard sat out Tuesday’s game as he continues to recover from a right calf injury. His status for Wednesday’s game is now questionable after reportedly feeling better before the OKC game.

Houston has struggled lately after a blistering 25-4 start to the season. They’ve lost seven of their last 10 games, with James Harden missing the last four. Behind Harden’s 48 points in early December, the Rockets beat Portland 124-117 in the Moda Center.

What to watch for

  • Replacing Harden’s scoring. It’s impossible to replicate what James Harden brings to the Rockets’ offense. The MVP candidate is the NBA’s leading scorer with 32.3 points per game and second in assists with 9.1. Houston’s offense, however, hasn’t slowed down much in the four games he’s missed. It helps to have one of the best point guards in the NBA in Chris Paul to help run team, but Houston has maintained their offensive output with a more balanced approach. Eric Gordon and Gerald Green have both averaged more than 20 points in the games Harden has missed while Paul and Clint Capela have also upped their season averages.
  • Gerald Green out of nowhere. There wasn’t a lot of hype when the Rockets signed Gerald Green on Dec. 28. The 10-year veteran averaged 5.6 points in 47 games for the Celtics last season. It would be an understatement to say the Houston native, who cornrowed the Rockets logo in his hair after signing with the team, has exceeded expectations in his seven games. Green is averaging a career-high 17.3 points per game since his signing and has helped carry the load without Harden. In the four games Harden has missed, Green leads Houston in scoring with 23.3 points off the bench while shooting 50 percent on 11.5 threes per game.
  • Defending the 3-point line. Houston continues to prioritize 3-pointers. They shoot and make the most in the league, putting up an astounding 43.1 threes per game—10 more than the next closest team—and making 15.9. Harden’s injury hasn’t slowed down the Rockets’ production from behind the arc. In fact, their attempts (46) and makes (16.8) per game have increased without The Beard. In their December matchup, Portland did an admirable job of limiting Houston’s attempts from downtown, while shooting well themselves. The Rockets went 10-25 in the game while the Blazers were 18-41. Portland will need to continue that on Wednesday.

What they’re saying

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle wrote about Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni’s response to the team’s recent struggles:

D’Antoni said he does not want to overreact, especially on the offensive end, because the Rockets’ analysis showed Saturday’s game was their seventh-best game all season at creating good shots, their fourth-best at taking the shots they want.

“We’re doing what we want,” he said. “Is it a matter of the past couple games us shooting below normal and the other team shooting above normal? But where we get in trouble is thinking we can just outscore them. You think unconsciously, ‘Oh, that one basket didn’t matter. We’ll go down and score.’ Then we miss an open 3. After a while, you’re not playing with the same urgency. It gradually erodes. We have to get that back.”

That could amount to playing with confidence offensively, urgency defensively. Overall, the Rockets offense has been solid, if not where it was, ranking seventh over the past 10 games. The defense, however, has ranked 28th in that stretch.

SB Nation’s Tim Cato wrote about how Gerald Green fits in Houston:

In a healthy Rockets rotation, Green is an eighth or ninth man at best. Everyone knows Mike D’Antoni prefers tight rotations when games get tough, and Green probably won’t make that cut every game.

But Green is also the type of player who could heat up and win the Rockets a postseason game when they need something extra. He nearly did it on Thursday — or, at least, helped keep them in it despite James Harden’s absence. (Yes, to be fair, the Warriors were also missing Kevin Durant.)

This is the perfect team that can accentuate Green’s strengths, and it’s the best situation that he could ask for. It’s easy to be happy for Green, who has truly found his perfect landing spot.

For some reason, the Rockets created a Chris Paul mascot. Portland may not have to deal with James Harden on Wednesday, but now they’ll have to deal with this: