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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Houston Rockets Preview

The Blazers look to extend their win streak in front of a national TV audience.

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

Portland Trail Blazers (44-26) vs. Houston Rockets (56-14)

Tuesday, March 20th - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: None
Rockets injuries: Brandan Wright (questionable)
How to watch on TV: TNT
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTVPass
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: The Dream Shake

In what is likely the game of the year to date, the Portland Trail Blazers look to win their 14th straight game against the first-place Houston Rockets.

The Rockets, who have won 26 of their last 28 games, are inching closer to clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference behind their hyper-efficient offense. James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, and Eric Gordon are all having superb seasons as Houston takes the idea of only shooting at the rim or from the 3-point line to the extreme.

What to watch for

Can the Blazers stop Houston from the 3-point line? The Rockets shoot more than 42 three-pointers per game, far and away the most in the NBA. The Blazers are having success by closing out on 3-point shooters, rotating quickly, and forcing opponents into low-efficiency mid-range shots. While Houston shoots fewer mid-range shots than any team in the NBA, they do have Chris Paul, who has made a living killing the Blazers in the mid-range.

Who wins the free throw battle? The Blazers get to the line 21 times a night, good for 17th in the NBA. The Rockets, behind Paul and Harden and their ... free throw earning ways ... get to the line nearly 26 times a night, best in the NBA. The Blazers need to maintain their defensive intensity by avoid reaching, or any semblance of reaching, while defending Houston.

What they’re saying

Chris Thompson from Deadspin wrote about how the Rockets are driving opposing coaches crazy:

But the Rockets are a bit annoying, here: they attempt about 42 drives per game, which puts them towards the middle of the NBA; those drives lead to 17.2 shots per game, good for 10th fewest in the league; but from those relatively unimpressive drive numbers, they generate seven free throws per game, by far the most in the NBA. I think we all sort of understand, by now, how this is happening: James Harden leads the NBA in free throws per game, and while he is for sure one of the deadliest isolation and pick-and-roll players in basketball, he is also far and away the best at gaming his way to the free throw line, maybe ever.

SB Nation’s Paul Flannery gives us seven reasons why the Rockets are the team to beat this season:

One of the hallmarks of their 15-game winning streak is an ability to beat the league’s best. Ten of those wins have come against teams with winning records and more than half of them have come on the road.

None of this is an aberration. The Rockets are almost as good on the road as they are at home. They beat up on the East and have a 30-8 record against teams from the West. (As a point of comparison, Golden State has lost 11 games against Western Conference foes.)

To put it another way, there is nothing inflated about Houston’s record. Everything about the Rockets is legit, including the defense.

Sean Highkin of Rockets Wire writes about the heavy praise that Mike D’Antoni has for P.J. Tucker:

Since signing with the Rockets this summer, veteran forward P.J. Tucker has had a transformative impact on Houston’s defense. He’s recently supplanted Ryan Anderson as their starting power forward. And Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni had some heavy praise for Tucker recently, putting him up there with the best defenders he’s ever seen.

Mike D’Antoni: “I tell you what... PJ Tucker is one of the best defenders I’ve ever seen. He guards everybody. He guards them hard... This guy... it doesn’t get much better than him.”