Rockets – Blazers pre-game notes

Houston_RocketsAs things continue to look promising for a healthy Dwight Howard to return well before the playoffs, some things to think about as the Rockets are in Portland for their only game at the Blazers this regular season. Obviously the last time they were there – they were down 3 games to 2 and it was game six of their western conference playoff series. Then with just seconds remaining in a tie game, Chandler Parsons scooped up a loose ball under the Rockets basket and put it in with just 0.9 seconds left, to give Houston the two-point, 98-96, victory. That brought the series back to Houston for a deci…wait, sorry…Damian Lillard became uber famous in the waning moments and the Rockets season ended that night.

On to Wednesday night’s game, some notes:

– James Harden is doing alright against the Blazers in two games this season.

Game 1: 44 points (14-26 FG, 4-9 3ptFG), 12-13 FT, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals
Game 2: 45 points (11-25 FG, 4-10 3ptFG), 19-23 FT, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals

But the Rockets only won the first meeting (110-95) and lost the second game (109-98).

In the six game playoff series against the Blazers last season, Harden averaged 26.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He shot only 37.6 percent overall and 29.6 percent on 3-pointers.

– Corey Brewer made his Rockets debut in the first meeting. He immediately ignited the Rockets, sparking a pair of runs that turned a four-point deficit into a 20-point halftime lead. He was an astounding (+27) in the first half, grabbing three of his five steals in the game, had 10 points and three assists, two going to Harden for finishes at the rim. He was far less impactful in the second game with the Rockets against Portland, making just 2-of-9 shots with no steals in Houston’s 11-point loss. Brewer will be playing a rare fifth game against an opponent, having played them twice with the Timberwolves before joining the Rockets for both of their games against Portland.

– Portland is the only team in the NBA with a .500 record or better when trailing heading into the fourth quarter (12-12). They are also incredibly successful when at home and trailing heading into the fourth quarter going 9-2.

– The Blazers defense is much improved over last season. They have held their opponents under 100 points 39 times, which leads the NBA.

– Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge was on fire to open the playoff series against Houston last season, scoring 89 points in the first two games, both Blazers’ wins. He’s been consistently good against Houston in the last three regular seasons, too. In the nine games against the Rockets since the start of the 2012-13 season, he’s averaging 28 points and 12 rebounds. Aldridge has scored at least 24 points every time. He’s made 10 or field goals in seven of those games and grabbed 11 or more rebounds in six of those games, including his career high 25-rebound effort last season.

– Blazers center Robin Lopez missed 23 games earlier this season with a broken hand and Portland struggled, going just 13-10. They are 28-10 in the 38 games with Lopez in the lineup. He missed the first meeting with Houston, a Rockets 15-point win, while he started in the second meeting, a Blazers 11-point victory.

– Portland forward Nicolas Batum had been a season-long offensive slump until recently. After bringing a career shooting percentage at 45 percent into the season, Batum is connecting on less than 40 percent of his shots this season. After shooting at least 34.5 percent on 3-pointers in each of his first six NBA seasons, Batum is under 30 percent this season. But he’s on a bit of a roll recently. He’s scored 15 points or more in his last three games. He had not done that in three consecutive games all season. He made at least half his shots in all three of those games, similarly, something he had not done in three consecutive games this season. He’s also made 9 of hi last 18 3-point attempts, particularly significant since the Blazers are without Wes Matthews the rest of the season after he tore his Achilles tendon on March 4. Matthews is 4th in the NBA in 3-point field goals made.

– While the winner of this game will win the season series, 2-1, that season series victory will likely have no impact on the payoff seeding. The game result clearly has a huge impact in the standings, but the Blazers are going to clinch their division title soon and division winners earn tiebreakers over non-division winners. The Rockets, who are one game ahead of Portland, would be seeded ahead of the Blazers only if they have a better record, regardless of their season series result. Well, unless the Rockets catch the Grizzlies for the southwest division crown. They currently trail Memphis by two games and would lose that tiebreaker based on that season series result (3-1 Grizzlies).

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