Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Portland is clearly going through a transition period with rookie Damian Lillard running the show on offense, but the team has remained exciting nonetheless.
Houston is in the same boat. Jeremy Lin and James Harden have kept the almost-depleted Rockets relevant, yet it's clear they're nowhere near contender status.
The Blazers are fresh off an impressive road win over the Sacramento Kings and are still riding high from crashing Houston's party the first time around this season. Houston is coming off a sound victory of their own, though, and will look to settle the score on Portland's turf.
There will be no shortage of emotions in this one, as both teams will look prove that their blueprint for rebuilding is better than the other's.
Time: Friday, November 16th, 10 p.m. E.T.
TV: NBA League Pass
Records: Houston Rockets (4-4), Portland Trail Blazers (3-5)
Betting Line: TBD
Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
Rockets: Greg Smith (finger), questionable.
Blazers: Elliot Williams (Achilles), out.
Key Storyline: Which rebuilding team is closer to playoff contention?
It's not often that we bear witness to two rebuilding teams who have showed so much promise out the gate.
The Rockets were supposed to debut near the bottom of the NBA's barrel, yet have managed to play .500 basketball. The Blazers were supposed to struggle immensely—which they have—but they've demolished the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings, and beat the Rockets themselves.
Both teams have made cases for themselves to contend—or at least come close to contending—for a playoff spot, but both have also been overly inconsistent all season.
While neither of their current blueprints for rebuilding are being questioned, one is going to yield more results sooner than the other.
Which one will it be?
Key Matchup: Jeremy Lin, PG, Rockets vs. Damian Lillard, PG, Blazers
This game will provide us with the opportunity to see two of the most captivating young point guards wage battle against one another.
Lin's reunion with the Rockets has not gone smoothly by any means, but when lanes have opened up, he has showed flashes of the overnight sensation he became last season with the New York Knicks.
Yes, Lin is averaging just 10.9 points per game, but he's dishing out a team-high 6.1 assists as well. His assists-to-turnover ratio is also at a career high, and he's grabbing 2.5 steals per game.
If he can continue to man the passing lanes on defense, he will make running the offense difficult for the turnover-prone Lillard.
That being said, the rookie point guard is not going to be a pushover.
He's averaging 18.4 points and 6.6 assists per contest, and has proved to be a nightmare for opposing point guards and defenses alike. Remember, he dished out nine dimes against Houston in this matchup the first time.
Lillard's defense is also incredibly underrated. He's swiping just over a steal per game, but his strength is in his quickness and footwork. He's not one to get beaten off the dribble, which will make it hard for Lin to get the first step he needs to attack the rim.
If Lillard can keep pace with his scoring while limiting his turnovers to a minimum—he's coughing up 3.4 per game—the Blazers will be on their way to a second straight victory over the Rockets.
Omer Asik, C, Rockets
Houston's often offensively inept center has been anything but over the past few games.
Asik is averaging 10.5 points on the season, but has put up 16 over the last three games to go along with his 11-plus rebounds as well. He continues to be a force on defense and is an offensive rebounding machine, who has provided Houston with a bevy of second-chance points.
If he can continue to feign competency on the offensive end while limiting the exploits of LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson, the Rockets will have a better than outside chance of coming up with the win.
Wesley Matthews, SG, Blazers
Someone needs to combat the offensive powerhouse that is Harden, and Portland will look to Matthews to do that.
Though Nicolas Batum will likely spend an ample amount of time defending Harden, the key for Matthews is attempting to match—or come close to matching—his production.
The Blazers' shooting guard is averaging 16 points per game, but the team will need more if he wishes to combat the 26.4 points per night Harden is posting.
Should Matthews prove not to be overmatched, it will take a burdensome weight off the shoulders of teammates Aldridge, Batum and Lillard.
Marcus Morris, PF, Rockets
Morris is Houston's leading scorer off the bench, as well as one of the team's most versatile defenders. And they'll need to tap into every skill set he has in order to prevail in this one.
The Rockets aren't laden with proven talent throughout the depth chart, but they are deeper than a thin Blazers team.
Which means Morris not only needs to lead the offensive charge off the bench, but he'll find himself matched up against Aldridge on the defensive end quite often.
Morris' ability to maintain his valuable level of offensive production while not being manhandled in the post by Aldridge will be a huge factor in determining the outcome of this one.
Meyers Leonard, C, Blazers
Portland does not have a bench. It's that simple.
No one on the Blazers' bench sees more than the 17.4 minutes of action Leonard receives, which is saying something because the rookie center himself is still incredibly raw.
That said, Cole Aldrich is barely playing 10 minutes per game for Houston, meaning the Rockets don't have a competent big man to defend the post in Asik's stead. Not only that, but Leonard sees most of his time alongside Hickson or Aldridge. Houston's defense will be focusing on them, not him.
If Leonard can become more aggressive on the offensive end and capitalize off the double-teams his peers will draw, he could be in for a breakout game.
Prediction: Rockets 105, Blazers 98
Portland has allowed 100 or more points in five of its first eight games, going 1-4 when it does so.
Though Houston does not present the most potent of offensive attacks—97.1 points per game—it has dropped 100 or more over its last two. Plus, when defending the likes of Harden, Lin and even Chandler Parsons, a porous defensive attack could prove detrimental.
Which rebuilding team walks away with a win Friday?
Lillard, Aldridge, Batum and Matthews should be able to get theirs against an underwhelming Rockets defense, however. They're all talented scorers who move the ball well, which will undoubtedly make life difficult for Houston.
That said, outside of those four, Portland has almost nothing. The Blazers' bench is incredibly thin and putting up under 20 points combined. That's terrible.
No, the Rockets do not have an experienced bench, but with guys like Morris, Toney Douglas and Carlos Delfino coming off it, there is no shortage of offense either.
Ultimately, a lack of depth will come back to plague Portland like it has all season. Houston will get its revenge en route to a second straight win.
Most importantly, though, the Rockets will also find themselves above .500 once again—where they will hope to stay.
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