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Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Preview

Can the Trail Blazers build on a solid win to take down the Rockets for the second time this season?

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (15-11) at Houston Rockets (11-14)

Tuesday, December 11 - 5:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Anfernee Simons (out)
Houston injuries: Marquese Chriss (day-to-day), Brandon Knight (out), Zhou Qi (Out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA TV
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: The Dream Shake

Once again the Blazers prepare to take on a team that is on the slide. The Houston Rockets have dropped three in a row, seven of their last ten. While they continue to lead the league in 3-point attempts, their efficiency had dropped substantially, from 36.2 percent in 2018 to 33.7 percent this season. After a hot streak in November which saw them win eight out of ten, this slide has players searching for answers. Shams Charania and Kelly Iko of the Athletic reported on Monday that D’Antoni may tinker with the lineup and start Eric Gordon in place of James Ennis.

The Trail Blazers are coming off a solid win against the Minnesota Timberwolves but have themselves dropped six of their last ten. Jusuf Nurkic logged a performance worthy of the Bosnian Beast nickname with 22 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks, four assists, and three steals. Nurkic’s energy lifted the Blazers up over the Wolves down the stretch along with key contributions from Lillard and McCollum, proving that when these three play well, the Blazers win.

What to watch for

  • Chris Paul vs. Damian Lillard In-head-to-head matchups Chris Paul has the decided advantage over Damian Lillard (15-4, including three of their last four meetings). As Lillard is in his prime and Paul is (possibly) on the decline, look for Lillard to come out with a head of steam to try and jump on Houston fast.
  • Offensive Rebounds The last time these two teams met, the Blazers won by a wide margin but they lost the battle for offensive rebounds 20-7. Jusuf Nurkic has been playing well as of late and paying attention to details like offensive rebounds could keep him alert against a team that they dominated six weeks ago.
  • Can the Blazers clean up their turnovers? Turnovers remain an issue for Portland, who turned the ball over 19 times against the Timberwolves. It remains to be seen whether they can clean up their game. In the handful of December games, they have averaged 18.3 turnovers.

What they’re saying

Former Blazer’s Edge writer David MacKay, now with Rockets Wire, points out that the Rockets are clinging to their three-point shooting strategy despite evidence it is no longer working for them:

Although the Rockets’ strategic dedication to the old axiom, “The best defense is a good offense” has proved successful in the past and reshaped franchises that followed in their footsteps, it’s clear that they simply don’t have that right now. And without a good defense to hold steady while the offense wavers, if nothing changes on the court, something needs to change in the playbook.

Over on the the Dream Shake, Coty M. Davis wonders if this is the start of the decline for Chris Paul? The 14-year vet is scoring fewer points, shooting at a lower percentage, assisting on fewer field goals and turning the ball over at a higher rate than he has in years:

The Point God is currently shooting a career-low 42.2 percent from the field, and his most recent play indicates that there might not be an end in sight. While averaging 8.3 points over the last two games, Paul has shot 26.3 percent from the field, which includes going 1-for-8 in the Rockets’ 103-91 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday night.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle pulls apart the reasons for the Rockets’ recent struggles, including their inability to finish close games, rebound well, and limit turnovers.

In the NBA, everybody has talent and the Rockets have their share. Games are going to be close. But in games decided by five points or fewer, the Rockets are 2-4. It is remarkable that they have played so few close games, but dangerous that they have already lost as many of them as they did in 16 close games last season.

Lindsay Hostetler helped with this preview. Thanks for the assist, Lindsay! (TBB)