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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Houston Rockets Preview

The Blazers look to compete against a depleted Rockets squad.

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Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers (0-1) vs. Houston Rockets (0-0)

Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Houston Rockets at the Moda Center. With all the talk currently surrounding James Harden possibly wanting to come to the Trail Blazers, along with the Rockets being severely low on players due to COVID-19 protocols, it’s sure to be an interesting game.

Saturday, December 26 - 7:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: NBATV, NBCSNW, or see games all season on fuboTV, follow on ESPN+, or the ESPN/Disney Bundle*
Blazers injuries: Zach Collins (out), Nassir Little (game time decision), Anfernee Simons (game time decision)
OPPONENT injuries: Chris Clemons (out), DeMarcus Cousins (out), John Wall (out), Eric Gordon (out), Mason Jones (out), Ben McLemore (out), Kenyon Martin Jr (out)
SBN Affiliate: The Dream Shake

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What To Watch For

  • James Harden. This seems to be an obvious point of interest given the current talk around the league. Harden has been vocal about wanting to leave Houston and potentially even make a move to Portland. Harden played two preseason games with the Rockets against the San Antonio Spurs shooting at 30% in the first, and 57.1% in the second. He’s sure to get plenty of minutes tonight with so much of their roster unavailable.
  • Portland’s Defense. After three losses in preseason, and another loss in the season opener, the Blazers’ defense is showing itself to be an issue. It’s not a new issue, but with the moves made in the off season, better defense was something we all expected to see, including the Blazers themselves. Head Coach Terry Stotts and Damian Lillard both commented on the team’s performance after the devastating loss to the Utah Jazz, with Stotts telling Jamie Hudson of NBC Sports Northwest, “Right now, we’ve got to get better.”
  • Houston’s depleted roster. The Rockets are going to be very shorthanded in tonight’s game. With 6 players unavailable due to COVID-19 protocol, Houston is left with only 9 available players, 2 of those being rookies.

What Others Are Saying

According to Michael Kaskey-Blomain of CBS Sports, Harden was recently fined due to a breach of COVID-19 protocol. He is cleared for the game against the Blazers, but several of his teammates are not.

All-Star guard James Harden will be available to play for Houston against the Blazers on Saturday night, but several of his teammates won’t be. Ben McLemore and rookie forward Kenyon Martin Jr. both tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week and DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Eric Gordon, and Mason Jones are all out after each received a seven-day quarantine. Harden was fined $50,000 for violating the league’s health and safety protocols earlier this week after videos showing Harden at a party without a mask began circulating on social media.

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reports that the Houston Rockets are traveling to Portland with only one more player than the minimum the NBA requires to play.

The Houston Rockets are traveling to Portland with nine players — one more than the minimum required to play an NBA game — for Saturday’s road game against the Trail Blazers. The Rockets, whose season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed due to a lack of available players, have six players missing because of a pair of positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing.

Over at the Dream Shake, Coty M. Davis says that Eric Gordon is looking to step up off the bench this season.

It is hard to argue that Gordon is better suited coming off the bench than starting. He is averaging 17.5 points as a starter in comparison to 14.7 points as a reserve. He currently holds a plus-minus of +5.8 coming off the bench, which increases to +9.1 as a starter.

His higher on-court production as a starter is the effect of sharing the court with Harden — the league’s most prolific scorer. Harden draws most of the opposing team’s attention on defense, which creates easier scoring opportunities for Gordon. He was also asked to do less playing off the ball alongside Paul and Westbrook in recent years. So Gordon’s stats as a starter could be a bit inflated.