Portland looks to go 3-0 over the Rockets on Friday in Houston, a battle between the number eight and nine teams in the Western Conference. Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (25-24) Vs. Houston Rockets (27-24)

The Houston Rockets lost to the Miami Heat Wednesday night 114-108. Until two nights ago, the last time Houston lost while still scoring at least 100 points happened on 16th of January in Dallas. They last won while scoring less than 100 points way back on Boxing Day of 2012 when they beat the Timberwolves in Minnesota 87-84. The Rockets got 30 points from James Harden that night.

Houston can score (they’ve gone over 100 seven straight times, 12 times in January, and all three times they’ve played in February). James Harden can score even when his team doesn’t score. That much we know. It also seems pretty clear that when the Rockets are held to less than 100 points, they’re incredibly vulnerable.

The Blazers gave up 105 points in their loss to the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night. Prior to that, Portland had gone three straight games without letting their opponent score in the triple digits. The Blazers (8-8 for the month of January) gave up 100 points in only half of their games last month.

Portland, at this point, is not known as a defensive stalwart, but occasionally they can play a little bit of defense. On that note, knowing that the Rockets win when they score a lot (and they can score A LOT, just ask Mark Jackson), expect the Blazers to emphasize defense in their game plan Friday night when they take on the Rockets in Houston for the second time in 2012-13 (their third match-up in total).

Defense, and maybe overtime. In case you forgot, Portland is 2-0 this season against the Rockets. Both of those wins have come in overtime games. I know shooting for overtime is never ideal, but you know what they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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

Beating any NBA team three times in a row is tough business. Beating the Rockets for the third time this season might just be the most important thing the 2012-13 Blazers can hope to do. As of right now, Houston is a single game ahead of Portland for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. The Playoffs are the goal of this Blazer team, regardless of whether or not you as a fan agree with it. Getting into the Playoffs could very well come down to the head-to-head match-up between the Rockets and the Blazers. If Portland wins on Friday, they’ve got the head-to-head tiebreaker locked up.

Aside from continuing to win more games than they lose, there is nothing more important to the future of this Blazer season than beating the Houston Rockets Friday evening.

How do the Blazers go about beating the Rockets, the highest scoring team (in total points) in the NBA? Conventional wisdom would say Portland needs to stop James Harden. The Western Conference’s newest new marquee player isn’t quite an unstoppable force, but he’s a tough cover. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink at him might slow Harden down, but hoping to stop him might be wishful thinking.

Here’s my advice, don’t try to stop James Harden, maybe don’t defend him at all. If you’re the Blazers, you have to make the rest of the Houston Rockets beat you. Jeremy Lin has proven to be more than just a one-hit wonder, eve if he’s not an elite guard like James Harden. Chandler Parsons is a dead-eye shooter. leaving him to  help on James Harden is a recipe for disaster. Patrick Patterson is LaMarcus Aldridge light from mid-range and the kind of finisher at the rim that we all wish LA could be. Omer Asik is Omer Asik, if you don’t know about what he brings to the table than you haven’t been paying attention.

That’s a good crop of young talent. Add James Harden, and their good enough to get into the post season and probably take at least a game off whoever they face. But many of these players are elevated because of the attention James Harden gets. Play Harden straight up, and that limits the open looks for Parsons from deep and the put-backs from Patterson and Asik at the rim. Let Harden go for 40 (or even 50), I don’t think that he can beat the Blazers on his own, even if he’s legitimately one of the best scorers in the league.

What to Watch For

  • Nicolas Batum vs. Chandler Parsons. We all know that Nicolas is suffering from an injured wrist. That injury has limited his offensive ability; he’s gone four straight games with fewer than 10 field goal attempts. His longest streak without at least 10 shots a game in 2012-13 prior to this run was two. Some are certainly calling for Nicolas to be sidelined until he’s 100%. I’m not for that. Certainly the training staff knows of the situation and is advising Terry Stotts and Nic. If they think he shouldn’t play, he wouldn’t be playing. That said, if he physically can play, he needs to be in his normal spot in the line-up and rotation. Nicolas is primed for a slump breaking game, even with the injury. If he can find a way to score without the long ball (at the rim or from the line), he could breakout on Friday. But regardless of his offense, Batum needs to show up on defense against the Rockets. For my money, Chandler Parsons is the unexpected occurrence of the Houston Rockets. James Harden was great on the Thunder, it stood to reason that he’d be extra great without the dual Albatrosses of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to deal with. Jeremy Lin is Jeremy Lin. It’s a bit of a shock that he’s hanging in the league, but it’s not the kind of follow-up story to Linsanity some people wanted. The most captivating player the NBA has seen maybe ever turns out to be basically a serviceable, mid-level starting point guard isn’t quite the hot-seller that sells papers around the world. But Chandler Parsons, though, is a real emerging story for Houston. Taken with the eighth pick in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft, Parsons has developed into a solid third or even second scoring option. He can shoot and he can attack the rim. With Chase Budinger no longer on the Rocket’s roster, and Carlos Delfino being pretty inconsistent, the minutes are there for Parsons, and he’s taken advantage of them. If the Blazers take my advice and don’t worry about James Harden getting his, keeping Chandler Parsons from getting his could be the difference between winning and losing.
  •  Inside scoring. Chandler Parsons versus Nicolas Batum is important match-up number one (again if we assume that Portland just lets James Harden score as much as he can), so important match-up number two will be the combination of Patrick Patterson and Omer Asik versus the combination of LaMarcus Aldridge versus J.J. Hickson. LA has been rolling as of late. In his last six games he’s shot over 60% from the field three times and 50% from the field once. He has an advantage over Patrick Patterson in that he’s a better shooter. Patterson, though, will try to take LA into the post. That might not be so great for LaMarcus. To get the better of Houston’s young and strong power forward, LA will have to make sure he hits his jumpers, gets fouled in the lane if/when he goes in there, and avoids fouling at all costs. If Aldridge gets into foul trouble, Patterson will eat up Jared Jeffries if Stotts stays big or Luke Babbitt and Victor Claver if Stotts goes small. As for Asik versus Hickson, this is the kind of game that will probably make Hickson detractors very happy. J.J. won’t be able to contain Asik in the post. He probably also won’t be able to effectively attack the rim against the Rockets’ big man. Parsons is much more capable of putting up big numbers than either Patrick Patterson or Omer Asik, but if Houston’s scoring advantage in the paint is in the double digits, Portland probably loses.
  • Bench play. Every Blazer needs to be on the top of their game Friday to give Portland their best chance at winning. That means that every dude coming off the bench has to contribute something. That means no empty shifts from Meyers Leonard, and no major scoring droughts. The style of both teams, and the wide-open play Friday’s game is likely to have might favor a guy like Will Barton. Maybe he has a big game. If Barton has a big game, he could be a difference maker.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]


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