An early-season rematch
The Portland Trail Blazers avoided becoming the Western Conference’s worst team in Wednesday’s win against the Sacramento Kings, and a victory against the Houston Rockets would help establish momentum heading into an easier part of the schedule.
Matchup: Portland (3-5) vs. Houston Rockets (4-4)
Venue: Rose Garden Arena
Time: 7:00 PM PT
Date: Friday, Nov. 16, 2012
These two teams have already faced off once this season in an overtime game that went Portland’s way.
Game Notes/How They Match Up
The Trail Blazers and the Rockets are each coming off a victory heading into this matchup, but both are also in the midst of a dry spell. Each team has lost four of its last six contests, and while it’s still early in the year, that is a concerning trend for these two fanbases.
On offense, these two teams have been extremely even up to this point. They are 15th (PDX) and 17th (HOU) in points per game, and they are 22nd (PDX) and 25th (HOU) in field-goal percentage. The Rockets run a faster pace, but Portland likes to push the tempo as well.
On defense, Houston may not be great, but they certainly have the edge against the Blazers. Portland is 27th in the NBA in points allowed, while Houston is 17th. The Blazers allow their opponents to shoot 49.4 percent from the field, while the Rockets hold their opponents to 43.6 percent.
What to Watch: Portland
If the Blazers want to win this one, they have to do one of two things: run a faster pace, or play better defense.
The Blazers are a team that can get out and run, but we’ve yet to see them truly succeed in that style of offense. With Houston running a similar pace, Portland must score at a higher rate than their opponents if they want to make up for their defense, which is allowing more than 100 points per game.
If Portland is not able to control the tempo, and they cannot score quickly enough to outscore Houston, they must step it up on the defensive end. Houston may not be the best offensive team in the league, but the Blazers have made a few offenses look really good early in the year. Getting stops is going to be key if they can’t get out in transition, and it will be the only way they find success if their offense isn’t clicking.
What to Watch: Houston
The Rockets are 4-4 on the season, and how many points James Harden scores has had a direct impact on the team’s success up to this point.
Harden has averaged 33 points in wins and 19.75 points in losses. He’s been held to 24 points or fewer in all of the team’s losses this season, as it’s become clear that the Rockets’ success lies almost directly on the shoulders of their 2-guard.
As the team’s leading scorer by a long shot, Harden is the guy to keep an eye on if you’re Portland. Chandler Parsons is second with a 12.4 points-per-game average and Jeremy Lin is third at 10.9, but Harden is the man when it comes to putting the ball in the basket.
This is a young team who needed a leader when they traded for the former Oklahoma City Thunder. He has given them that leadership, but when he’s been contained by defenses early in the year, the team has trouble compensating.
As fun as it’s going to be to watch Wesley Matthews play against Harden for the second time this season, the battle down low between J.J. Hickson and Omer Asik could have a big impact on the final result.
Both players are averaging right around 11 points per game on the season, but their impacts are going to be felt most in the rebounding game. They are both hustle players who can earn their teams extra possessions with good timing and ruthless aggression.
Asik is good on defense, but he’s only averaging 1.25 blocks per game. Hickson has the athletic advantage, and if he wants to assert himself offensively, he should be given the opportunity.
Defensively, Hickson just needs to continue to stay gritty. You know Asik isn’t going to put up a ton of points in this one, so if the Blazers’ undersized center can stand his ground and stay out of foul trouble, he has the potential to be one of the biggest difference makers whether he scores or not.
Portland: DAT-TO-DAY—LaMarcus Aldridge
Houston: OUT—Royce White, DAY-TO-DAY—Carlos Delfino
The Trail Blazers may have beaten the Rockets earlier in the season, but that in no way guarantees a victory this time around. Portland is still learning how to win games, and they haven’t found success against a team that is .500 or better since the third game of the year.