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Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Preview

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Portland meets the Houston Rockets after they spent two days practicing and soul-searching.

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (4-2) vs. Houston Rockets (1-4)

Tuesday, October 30 - 5:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Moe Harkless (out)
Houston injuries: James Harden (out), Marquese Chriss (out), Zhou Qi (out)
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 were in foul trouble in the first half on Monday night but the bench turned on the jets to outscore Indiana’s secondary unit 54-15 and deliver the win. Now on to Houston where they look to erase a sweep by the Rockets last season.

This year’s Rockets are very different from the group that was “one hamstring” (and 27 missed three-point shots) away from the NBA Finals. They lost two of their most dependable defenders in Trevor Ariza (who signed with Phoenix) and Luc Mbah a Moute ( who returned to the Clippers as a free agent).

They added Carmelo Anthony after waiting a year to get him. After insisting he wouldn’t come off the bench, the Houston Rockets most reluctant bench player, Carmelo Anthony, is now ... in the starting lineup. And now the Rockets’ front office has reportedly offered four future first-round draft picks to the embattled Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Jimmy Butler. Oh, and Spit Gate, how did I forget to mention that? It’s been a busy two weeks for the Rockets.

And through it all, the Rockets have ... not won. Much. The Rockets are currently 21st in points per game, 29th in rebounds, 23rd in assists and 26th in opponent points. The Blazers can usually get up for a game against a big-time opponent and hopefully they haven’t been following the news that Houston is no longer big time, at least not this month.

What to watch for

  • Houston will be well rested and coming off of a couple days of practice. Watch to see if they come up with a plan to protect Carmelo Anthony from bad defensive matchups. If they are going to win he needs all his energy to score.
  • Scorching hot Damian Lillard. For a few hours over the weekend Lillard led the league in scoring before MVP candidate Steph Curry reclaimed bragging rights. Chris Paul owns the head-to-head matchups between himself and Lillard with a commanding 17-5 lead in the regular season. This feels like the year that Lillard won’t stand for a single slight and I expect he’s going to come out swinging (not literally, although Paul might) against the Rockets.
  • Are the Rockets really as bad as they sound? The Rockets could bust out of their slump at any time. While their roster is a lot shakier than it was last season they should not be taken lightly.

What they’re saying

Dan Devine of The Ringer dove into the strange start to the Rockets’ season, in particular how their defense has changed. What was once their strength has become a liability:

The Rockets are still switching a ton, but it often opens more windows than it shuts, especially on the interior. It started on opening night against New Orleans. Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, and the Pelicans hammered Houston with a simple action: have a guard set a pindown screen for a big man cutting from the baseline toward the foul line; watch as Houston’s defenders trigger the off-ball switch, taking whichever actual or theoretical rim protector the Rockets are playing away from the rim; have your big man take the smaller defender suddenly guarding him straight into the post; eat voraciously, and repeatedly.

Tim McMahon of ESPN reported from the locker room on Friday night that the Rockets would take their practice days to go “back to the drawing board.” However, Coach Mike D’Antoni told Chron.com that might have been an overreaction:

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said his initial reaction to Friday’s blowout loss to the Clippers and his intention to scrap the Rockets’ emphasis on defensive switching might have been hasty or at least exaggerated. But he said that 100 percent of Sunday’s video session before practice focused on the defensive end, with goals to correct the mistakes that have dropped the Rockets to a 1-4 start.

Finally, a note for those wondering what a Jimmy Butler trade to the Rockets might look like, David MacKay (formerly of Blazers’s Edge) writes for Rockets Wire:

Now, Bird rights are conveyed via trade, which is part of why the Rockets continue to pursue Butler with a high degree of urgency. They cannot offer the aforementioned max contract in free agency if he is not already on their roster. They would also like to bring him into the fold in time to push for a title this season.

In doing so, Houston would be sacrificing long-term roster flexibility in order to extend their title window, but this may be the best opportunity any team has to gain ground on the Warriors during their dynastic reign.

As we edge closer to Oct. 31, the Rockets can include a wider variety of pieces in their offer. Both Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss, acquired from the Suns this summer, will have their trade restrictions lifted on that date.