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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Houston Rockets Preview

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The Houston Rockets blast into town full of confidence and swagger.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (22-17) vs. Houston Rockets (22-15)

January 5th, 2018 - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Moe Harkless (probable)
Rockets injuries: Chris Paul (out), Eric Gordon (out), Carmelo Anthony (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 Portland Trail Blazers find themselves on the second night of a home back-to-back, coming off a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and playing the red-hot Houston Rockets. No one said the NBA was easy.

Last time these two teams faced each other the Rockets won 111-104 in Houston on December 11. Damian Lillard scored 34, CJ McCollum added another 23 but the Blazers bench could only chip in 13 points.

The Houston Rockets have won 11 of their last 12 games including most recently a 135-134 overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors. In spite of being without Chris Paul, the Rockets seem to be in their best form of the year after a disappointing start to the season.

What to watch for

  • Can the Blazers slow down James Harden? Harden hasn’t scored fewer than 41 points in a game since before Christmas. To say he’s on tear would be a massive understatement. Contrary to popular belief, he’s not just doing it from the free-throw line. Over his last five games he’s shooting 41.6% on 27.4 attempts from the field and 43.2% on 17.2 attempts from beyond the arc per game. Mix in 7.4 rebounds and 9.4 assists and you have a superstar who is dominating the court.
  • Lots of isolations from Houston. This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who has watched Houston play basketball in the last few years, but Houston doesn’t pass the ball a lot. Without Chris Paul, it gets even worse. The Blazers have been much maligned for their lack of assists, but Houston isn’t any better: 21.3 for the Rockets per game vs. 21.2 for the Blazers per game. Take away the 8.6 assists per game from Harden and 8.0 from Paul and, well, no one else is getting any assists to speak of. Want another measure of how little Houston passes the ball? 38% of all of their made threes are unassisted. The next closest team is Portland at 23.5%.
  • Can the Blazers keep the Rockets off the charity stripe? Since Christmas the Rockets are getting 30.6 free throw attempts per game. The Blazers are getting 25.2 over that same period of time. With the Rockets playing the best basketball of their season right now, the Blazers will need to not give Houston too many freebies. Keeping them under 25 is a good goal that would give the Blazers every chance of pulling out a victory against the red-hot Rockets.

What they’re saying

Coty M. Davis on The Dream Shake thinks James Harden is pretty good:

Forget what Max Kellerman said on First Take a week ago, James Harden is currently playing better basketball than anyone on the planet.

Thursday night, Harden silenced his naysayers, as he led the Houston Rockets to a scintillating 135-134 overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors. After he knocked down the game-winning basket with a contested three-pointer, Harden ended the game with 44 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds in the win. The performance marked his fifth consecutive 40-point game and second triple-double in a row.

After their huge win against the Golden State Warriors, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes that the Rockets are saying that they won’t have a letdown:

Coming off a thriller of an overtime win, on the NBA’s largest regular-season stage and against the two-time reigning champions, the Rockets would seem in position for a letdown. They insisted, however, they would not have any difficulty moving on from the 135-134 win against the Warriors on Thursday.

T.A. Mock at House of Houston writes that Danuel House is making himself valuable to the Rockets:

He signed a one year deal with the Houston Rockets to return to the team following the aftermath of the Carmelo Anthony experiment. However, with Gary Clark playing well and earning a three-year deal, House was released and subsequently signed to a two-way deal with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

However, since then, House has been playing at a high level at a position that the Houston Rockets desperately need depth at. It seems the more the Rockets play him and show confidence in his ability, the better he has gotten. Though injuries to Chris Paul and James Ennis have definitely played a part in his six consecutive starts, he has proved it to be a wise decision.