Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
The Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers will meet for the fourth and final time this season on Friday night in the Pacific Northwest, as James Harden and the Rockets look to even the regular season series at two games apiece and run their winning streak to four games.
For the home team, Friday night's matchup presents an opportunity to end a six-game losing streak that has featured three losses at the Rose Garden.
Will the Blazers bring an end to their losing skid, or will the Rockets move one game closer to the No. 6 spot out West?
Here we'll get you set with everything you need to know for Friday night's Western Conference clash in Portland.
Where: Rose Garden in Portland, Ore.
When: Friday, April 5 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Live Streaming: ESPN3.com
Betting Line: TBA
Key Injuries (according to USA Today)
Carlos Delfino (foot), questionable.
Portland Trail Blazers:
LaMarcus Aldridge (ankle), doubtful
Nicolas Batum (shoulder), out indefinitely
Sasha Pavlovic (quadriceps), out indefinitely
Rockets Player to Watch: James Harden
Rockets star James Harden has lit up the Trail Blazers in three meetings this season, averaging over 29 points, seven assists and six rebounds per game in those games.
Harden's points have come easily as well, as he's shooting 50 percent from the field and better than 46 percent from beyond the arc against Portland. Look for Harden to shine once again on Friday night as he finished with 35 points and 11 assists in Houston's 118-103 win over Portland back in February.
Harden's ability to play off the dribble and assist teammates in addition to creating his own scoring opportunities makes him one of the league's most versatile players, and you can bet he'll be Portland's biggest challenge on Friday.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: Damian Lillard
With Portland likely playing short-handed on Friday night, fans will want to keep an eye out for rookie point guard Damian Lillard, who has absolutely shined against the Houston Rockets this season.
Lillard, who is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors at season's end, is averaging 21.7 points and 6.7 assists per game in three matchups against Houston this season. In those three games, Lillard has shot 52 percent from the floor and an impressive 40 percent from downtown.
The former Weber State star actually broke the rookie record for three-pointers made in a season earlier this week, and is attempting nearly seven per game against the Rockets in 2012-13.
Like Harden, he can create for others, but it's his scoring prowess that truly sets him apart.
Key Matchup: Outside the Three-Point Line
It's safe to say that the team that knocks in more three-pointers will win Friday night's games. After all, the team with the most made three-pointers has won each of the first three meetings this year.
Houston has made 26 three-pointers in three meetings against Portland, recording 12 in its only win last February. On the other side, Portland has connected on 28 threes in three games, pouring in a combined 20 in its two overtime wins to begin the regular season series.
But with Nicolas Batum likely to miss Friday's game, Portland doesn't stand much of a chance in this area. Batum has accounted for 13 of Portland's 28 made threes in this series, and his absence on the perimeter will definitely be felt against Houston.
With Harden, Chandler Parsons and the NBA's leading three-point shooting team (28.7 three-point attempts per game) bombing away from deep, Portland will need to ratchet up its perimeter defense on Friday in order to avoid getting blown out on its home floor.
Which streak will last longer?
Portland has been hampered by key injuries and is going to be undermanned on Friday. On top of that, this matchup pits two teams together that are clearly trending in opposite directions.
While the Rockets look playoff bound this spring, the Trail Blazers are headed for the lottery. Houston has won seven of its last 10 and Portland is just 2-8 over that time. With the Rockets still aiming to improve their playoff seeding in the West and the Blazers six games out of the postseason picture with just seven games to play, it's difficult to imagine Portland bringing an end to its losing skid on Friday.
Expect another huge performance from James Harden, and another Rockets' victory as they look to even the season series at two games apiece.
Rockets 107, Trail Blazers 98
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.
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