Tonight at 4:00 p.m. PST (mind daylight savings) at the Toyota Center in Houston, the Portland Trail Blazers (42-20) take on the Houston Rockets (43-19). This will be the fourth and final meeting between the teams. The Rockets hold a 2-1 series advantage after a 13 point win at home against the Trail Blazers on January 20th (126-113).
Every game between the Trail Blazers and Rockets this season has been high scoring. The winning team has posted point totals of 116, 111, and 126 in the season series. The Trail Blazers will have to have a short memory after they suffered a heartbreaking defeat in Dallas on Friday (103-98). Getting into a 30 point deficit in the second quarter was that main reason for the loss. The Trail Blazers showed a lot of heart and were able to take the lead late in the game. They eventually struggled to close out the game and now must face a red hot Rockets team.
The Rockets handed the Pacers their worst loss of the season on Friday (26 points) after gutting them 112-86. With that win and Portland’s loss in Dallas, the Rockets jumped ahead of Portland in the Western Conference standings. The Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets could face off in the first round of the playoffs. Tonight’s game will have an impact on who has home-court advantage if the Rockets and Trail Blazers square off in a 4-5 matchup.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- Nicolas Batum was thought to have a broken nose after Friday night’s game in Dallas. As David MacKay wrote yesterday, Batum did not suffer a broken nose. He did suffer a nasal contusion and it’s unknown if a protective mask is needed.
- Joel Freeland is still out with a sprained MCL.
- Greg Smith is out for the season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery at the end of February.
Keys To The Game
Nicolas Batum vs. Chandler Parsons. Batum has already proven that he can play through injury. He will still be active on both ends of the floor and I doubt he will wear a protective mask. He didn’t record double digits in rebounds on Friday for the first time in four games. I mentioned on Friday that he should continue to have rebounding success since Dallas had struggled rebounding as a team. Well that certainly didn’t happen as Batum ended with only five boards. Tonight, Batum will have to work hard for every rebound he gets. The Rockets have dominated the Trail Blazers on the boards and have a 147-119 advantage in the season series. Batum will also need a great defensive effort to stop Chandler Parsons. Parsons led the Rockets in the previous meeting with the Trail Blazers. He recorded 31 points, with 10 rebounds, and seven assists. In the last three games against Portland, Parsons is averaging 18.0 points and 7.0 rebounds. The small forward match-up will be highly engaging tonight.
Damian Lillard. In the last five games, Damian Lillard has only scored 20-plus points in one game. Brandon Goldner mentioned in his review of the Dallas loss that Lillard laid another egg. I have to agree with him. At times, Lillard plays with passion, emotion, and fire. But far too often, his laid back demeanor comes across like he could care less about the game. We know that’s not true but he must be able to show that fire every night. He might not have a great shooting game on a given night but his actions could really help or hurt the Trail Blazers chances of winning.
Slow The Rockets Ball Movement. The Trail Blazers would be the first to tell you that ball movement is the key to their success. Lately, the same thing could be said about the Houston Rockets. Since the All-Star break, the Rockets have assisted on nearly 60 percent of their field goals. They had the fourth-worst mark in that category before the break at 54.5 percent. Coach Kevin McHale recently noted, “We’re doing a much better job of making the extra pass and the guys are enjoying it and they’re enjoying each other.” When the Rockets record at least 22 assists, they are 24-4 on the season. Last game against Portland, the Rockets had 27 assists while the Trail Blazers finished with 21. It is imperative that the Trail Blazers defense forces the Rockets into one-on-one situations and stops the ball from swinging around the horn.