Jeremy Lin will play his first game in the Rose Garden since last season's Linsanity episode. Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Game Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (3-5) Vs. Houston Rockets (4-4)

Tuesday’s match-up with the Sacramento Kings pitted the Blazers against the team that, should things take a turn for the worse this season or any season in the next three, they could very well become in the future. Friday’s game, at home against the Houston Rockets, will be Portland versus the team, or at least the organization, they should try to emulate for the present.

Houston did a few things this off-season that Portland was unable to do: they made a big splash in free agency, they made a blockbuster deal to bring in a huge talent and brand name player, and they’ve managed to turn a middling roster into one of the bigger stories in the league. Forget for a minute that the Rockets took a shot at and missed Dwight Howard. Forget for a minute that the big fish they landed in free agency were Jeremy Lin (a talented point guard who very possibly has already achieved his ceiling) and Omer Asik (a long-term type of project who may never be able to be a dominant offensive center). And forget for a minute that despite all the efforts of Daryl Morey this Houston team is the fourth-best in their division. The Rockets are going to play well, they are going to improve throughout the course of this season, and they’ve made people pay attention. For a team on the rise, you couldn’t really ask for very much more.

The Blazers need to take a long look at the Rockets and try to figure out how best to emulate the feel of this team. By that I mean, Portland has gotten some attention this season but they need to figure out a way to turn negatives into positives, they need to figure out how to flip their narrative from disarray to sustained development, and they need to lock in to that “competitive franchise on the rise,” label and not the “franchise on the brink of obscurity,” tag that seems to crop up in stories by major media outlets between sentences singing the praises of Damian Lillard.

One of the ways to learn from the Rockets, and one of the ways to be equated with Houston in the eyes of the media and NBA fans who aren’t Blazer fans, is to beat them…again.

Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson

Rockets Starting 5: PG Jeremy Lin, SG James Harden, SF Chandler Parsons, PF Patrick Patterson, C Omer Asik

The Blazers spoiled Houston’s home opener with defense and timely shooting, especially the timely shooting by Damian Lillard in the overtime period.  Portland nearly squandered a game in Sacramento by allowing the Kings’ bigs (who aren’t actually that big) to have any shot they desired in the paint or at the rim. Front-line defense has been an issue in practically every game this season. DeAndre Jordan looked All-NBA against Portland’s diminutive front court. Dallas got a ton of points at the rim both from their bigs and their guards attacking the basket.

Houston’s front-court tandem of Patrick Patterson and Omer Asik aren’t top tier, but they aren’t bad either. Patterson can shoot a little bit; Asik is a tough cover, especially on offensive rebounds. The Blazers need to focus on stopping the ball at the rim against the Rockets if they hope to come out Friday night with a win.

Taking care of the basketball will be another potential deal breaker. Portland has now lost three straight at home. In their home stand that just ended, Monday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks was the one the Blazers should have won.  Monday night, the inability to maintain control of the ball (read: WAY TOO MANY TURNOVERS) early in the game turned out to be too much to overcome.

Atlanta is a veteran team that knows the value of creating turnovers on the road, and they used the extra possessions that come from turnovers to maintain the cushion they needed to steal a win at the Rose Garden. Houston isn’t the mature team Atlanta is, but they no doubt will try to put the screws to Portland defensively, knowing that getting this team to turn it over is the best way to get out ahead. Lillard has shown to be smart with the ball most of the time, but does have a tendency to get a little sloppy. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum have both been pretty stable when handling the rock, mostly because neither guy is really required to dribble all that much. If Portland’s back-court trio can limit their collective turnovers to 10 at the most, the Blazers should be in good shape.

What to Watch For

  • Damian Lillard vs. Jeremy Lin. All of Portland’s games have come against teams with highly ranked point guards, all of them except the Kings. Tuesday night in Sacramento Damian had the best game of his career. He did it by being aggressive offensively right from the start. Part of that might have been because he wasn’t facing off against Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook or Steve Nash. Jeremy Lin is one of those name point guards, even if he isn’t in the same class as Parker or Westbrook. However, Damian has seen Lin already this season. He doesn’t have to learn about him as the game is developing. Because of that, I think Damian will be able to start out stronger than he did the first time these two teams played. I keep waiting for Damian to go from a big scoring night to a huge scoring night. Friday could be that night.
  • Can Portland snap the losing streak? The Rose Garden is Portland’s not-so-secret secret weapon. This team, maybe more than teams of the past since they are so young, relies on the home crowd to spur them along with times get tough. The Blazers need to hold home court; they need to reward the fans for cheering on a team that will inevitably finish towards the bottom of the Western Conference. I expect Portland to come out firing hoping to get the crowd going from the start. Hopefully that will lead to a controlled offensive explosion and not absolute total chaos.
  • James Harden. I don’t think Harden has the ability to put Houston in the Playoffs, at least not all by himself. However, he’s a great player, and great players are always fun to watch regardless of which team they play for.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

James Harden and his beard come to the city of beards Friday night. Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

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Tags: Damian Lillard Houston Rockets J.J. Hickson James Harden Jeremy Lin LaMarcus Aldridge Nicolas Batum Omer Asik Portland Trail Blazers Wesley Matthews

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