Portland Trail Blazers (17-24) at Houston Rockets (26-13)
Wednesday, January 15 - 6:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Skal Labissiere (out), Mario Hezonja (questionable)
Rockets injuries: Gerald Green (out), Nene Hilario (out), Clint Capela (probable), P.J. Tucker (questionable)
How to watch on TV: ESPN
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: The Dream Shake
The Trail Blazers head back out on the road after getting a much-needed win at home against the Charlotte Hornets. Portland got some solid contribution from Anthony Tolliver who scored 16 points and added 11 rebounds. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum led with way with 30 and 27 respectively.
The Houston Rockets are playing the second of a back-to-back. They lost to the Grizzlies in Memphis 121-110 on Tuesday. Russell Westbrook sat out the game to rest but will play against the Blazers. The Rockets beat Portland 132-108 in Houston back in November. James Harden scored 36 in that game while Russell Westbrook had a triple double (28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists). Clint Capela also had a nice game with 22 points, 20 rebounds, and 4 blocks.
What to watch for
- James Harden. When I wrote the Milwaukee bucks preview lat week I noted how rare it is for someone to significantly improve the season after winning the MVP. I was referring to the 2018-19 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it applies equally to the 2017-18 MVP James Harden. Harden averaged 30.4 points per game that season. Last season he increased that to 36.1 and this season he’s up to a ridiculous 37.7 point per game. His efficiency has not dipped at all—in fact his three-point shooting has increased from 36.7 percent his MVP year to 38 percent this year. Whatever you think of his playing style, Harden is an efficient scoring machine.
- Carmelo Anthony revenge game. Carmelo Anthony began the 2018 season in Houston but his time there didn’t last long. The Rockets waived Anthony just 13 games into the season after the former All-Star averaged 13.4 points on 40.5 percent shooting. He didn’t suit up in an NBA game until Portland signed him about a year later. Anthony has played pretty well when facing his previous teams this year. He scored 19 on 9 for 11 shooting against the Thunder, put up 20 points/9 rebounds in Denver, and scored 26 points in his return to Madison Square Garden. Hopefully, Anthony can put up some solid numbers Wednesday night.
- Defending the three-point line. The Rockets take, and make, more threes than any other team. They are only in the middle of the league in terms of three-point percentage (35 percent), but they make up for that by sheer volume. Houston leads all NBA teams with 44.2 three point attempts and 15.5 makes per game. Nearly half of their field goal attempts are threes (48.5 percent; the Blazers are at 36.9 percent) and 38.9 percent of their points come from beyond the arc. The Rockets shot 17 of 45 from distance in their defeat of Portland earlier this season. Being able to defend Houston’s shooters well would go a long way in helping Portland’s chances.
What they’re saying
Conrad Garcia of The Dream Shake encourages reluctant Rockets fans to embrace Russell Westbrook:
If you don’t like his style of play, I get that, but maybe be as supportive of him during his good games as you can be critical during his bad. It’s a strange phenomenon to see Rockets/James Harden fans back their guy despite an entire country of people telling them that they shouldn’t because of his style of play, because of his shot selection, because of his postseason shortcomings, find it impossible to support another guy because of those very same things. If you can support Harden on nights when he’s 5/25 or has 10+ turnovers, you can find it in you to support Westbrook.
In an article for The Players’ Tribune Jimmy Butler says that James Harden is the most unstoppable player in the league right now:
Everything he does starts with his step-back. He’s legendary for it. Some people say it’s a travel. I say if the ref doesn’t call it, I’m all for it. Find a way to stop it, travel or not. But his whole attack is built off that step-back. He hangs the ball out there and teases you with it, and then he waits for you to make a move. He’s reading you. Whatever you decide to do, he’s got a counter for it. Because if you give him too much space, he’s gonna take the step-back, and probably make it. If you get too close to him — if you try to get up into him and take the shot away — he’s either going to lean into you and draw a foul or blow right by you and take it to the basket.
Ben DeBose of Rockets Wire points out that Clint Capela is on pace to get his incentive bonus for rebounding:
To this point, Capela’s average of 14.2 rebounds per game is up by 1.5 from his 12.7 total in 2018-19, his fifth season. In an identical 33.6 minutes per game, Capela has lifted his defensive rebounding by more than two per game — from 8.2 last year to 10.3 this season.
In turn, that has helped boost Capela’s defensive rebounding rate from 27.6% to 31.6%, putting him comfortably above the bonus threshold.