Team Records: Portland (22-6) at Houston (19-7)
Game Info: 5 PM, TV on KGW, Radio on 620 AM
Vegas Line: Houston -3
Refs: Zach Zarba, Karl Lane, Josh Tiven
The Skinny: Harden and Howard welcome the Blazers to town Monday for the first matchup between the two teams since Lillard’s miracle 3 eliminated Houston from the 2014 playoffs. Houston had been playing well until recently but is riding a two game home losing streak going into Monday’s matchup. Portland has won five straight going into Mondays’s matchup and is playing the third of four games in five nights.
Last Season: The Rockets won the season series 3-1 but Portland got the last laugh when they eliminated Houston from the playoffs in 6 games.
Projected Rockets Lineup:
PF: Donatas Montiejunas (Lithuania-3rd season) – 10.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.4 APG
SF: Trevor Ariza (UCLA-4th season) – 14 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2 APG
C: Dwight Howard (SW Atlanta Christian (HS)-11th season) – 19.6 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 1.6 APG
SG: James Harden (Arizona State-6th season) – 26.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 7 APG
PG: Patrick Beverley (Arkansas-3rd Season) – 12.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.1 APG
Player to Watch: James Harden (pictured at right) – Love or hate him, there is no question that the beard is one of the best scorers in the NBA. Traded to Houston in easily one of the worst trades in recent NBA history, Harden has blossomed in his two plus seasons in Houston. Harden is a streaky shooter who is always a threat to go off. He does best, however, when drawing contact and getting to the foul line as Harden shoots nearly 10 FTs a game at an 88% clip. His much bashed defense is slightly better than it has been in the past as it appears he is actually trying to play it at times. Still, he is primarily an offensive weapon that Houston has to try to hide on defense.
Did You Know?: The Rockets actually outscored the Blazers by 2 points over the course of Portland’s 4-2 series win last spring.
Song of the Day: “Movin’ On Up” from the TV Show “The Jeffersons”. The song I chose for game 6 last season so I’m rolling with it again for this one. Enjoy:
Portland: Out-C Robin Lopez (Hand), Questionable-PF LaMarcus Aldridge (Illness)
Houston: Out-PF Terrence Jones (Leg)
The message was clear from Houston’s playoff exist last year, they didn’t play nearly good enough defense to be true title contenders. They appear to have gotten that message, turning from one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year into one of the best. While some of it might be luck more than anything (I’ll believe Harden is a good defender when pigs fly for one), there is no question they are better. This improved defense has, however, come at the expense of their offense, which ranks only 21st so far this year. On offense, they turn the ball over too much and don’t do a great job passing. Houston is also heavily reliant on free throws and 3 pointers. If they get a lot of those two, they usually win, but if they don’t, they are in trouble. Houston is still a good team but not exactly the team we saw in last season’s playoffs.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: Aldridge and Lillard do what they did during the playoffs. LMA and Lillard absolutely tore apart Houston in last season’s playoffs. If they can do so again Monday, the Blazers should go 3-0 on this road trip.
Houston wins if: They pound Portland inside. Saturday’s blowout aside, there is still worry that without Lopez the Blazers will struggle to defend inside. If Houston can exploit that potential weakness, they should win.