Local: 503.250.1080
    Toll Free: 866.358.1080
| More
NBA Basketball
Scoreboard|Stats|Standings|Teams|Players|Player News|Injuries|Transactions

Rockets-Trail Blazers Preview

By BRETT HUSTON

STATS Editor

(AP) -- The past two games have followed the precise blueprint the Houston Rockets were expecting to roll out when they teamed Dwight Howard and James Harden.

So did their first visit to Portland.

The Rockets handed the Western Conference-best Trail Blazers their most lopsided loss of the season last month at the Moda Center, a result that'll surely be fresh in Portland's mind Thursday night in a rematch of the NBA's two highest-scoring teams.

Houston (15-7) blamed mental lapses and a lack of energy for its back-to-back losses to Utah and Phoenix last week, but there's been no dip in focus over the last two games.

Harden had 34 points, while Howard had 22 and 18 boards in Friday's 105-83 rout of Golden State. Howard then posted his first 20-20 game in a Rockets uniform and Harden (27 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds) narrowly missed a triple-double in Sunday's 98-88 win over Orlando.

Howard attempted 34 free throws in those two wins after a seven-game stretch in which he totaled 39 and averaged just 13.1 points. Harden, meanwhile, missed three games with a sore foot at the beginning of that stretch, but Houston's stars and supporting cast seem to be getting on the same page.

"We're learning how to play around Dwight," assistant coach Kelvin Sampson told the team's official website. "I thought early on we were probably force-feeding him a little too much. Now we're being a little bit more selective and Dwight is doing a good job of passing. ... So we're playing through him (better) and then James – James has just been a lot more efficient."

Harden has been remarkably efficient during the Rockets' three straight wins against the Blazers (18-4). He's totaled 101 points in those games on just 55 field-goal attempts.

Harden scored 33 and Howard 29 as Houston held a 54-28 scoring edge in the paint and 47-30 edge on the boards in a 116-101 victory in Portland on Nov. 5.

"They're very specific in what they do," Portland coach Terry Stotts said of the Rockets after that loss. "They shoot 3s and they get to the paint. Guys like Harden get to the rim, get to the paint. ... That's their style of play and then you throw in transition which is usually paint points, that's part of what they do."

One of the reasons Houston was able to limit the Blazers in the paint was the presence of Omer Asik, but the big man will miss a fourth straight game Thursday with a knee contusion. Guard Jeremy Lin, however, will return after a six-game absence.

The Blazers are 29th in the league in point differential in the paint (minus-9.3), and were outscored 54-36 inside in Saturday's 108-106 loss to Dallas - Portland's only other home defeat besides Houston.

There were no interior issues Monday in Utah. The Blazers held a 44-38 paint edge on the Jazz and got at least 15 points from four of their starting five in a 105-94 victory - led by LaMarcus Aldridge's 24.

"With our offense, I want us to be opportunistic with whatever the game gives us," Stotts said. "If it gives us 3s, we knock them down. If it gives us the paint, that's good too with LaMarcus on the block. One thing we've done well with offensively is we take what the game gives us."

The Rockets have tended to give Aldridge whatever he wants recently. He had 21 points in the first meeting and has averaged 28.0 while taking nearly 22 shots a game in his last five versus Houston.

Portland's Nicolas Batum has played in four of those games, averaging 22.3 points while going 14 of 27 from 3-point range.

Updated December 11, 2013

127 © 2014 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

The Fan's Top Stories

Ducks move on to Spartans


(AP) -- Oregon easily got past South Dakota to open the season. Now the real challenge comes: Michigan State. The No. 3 Ducks host the No. 8 Spartans on Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium. More.

Oregon State kicks past Portland State 29-14


(AP) Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion passed for 328 yards and one touchdown and rushed for another score Saturday to pace the Beavers to a 29-14 victory over Portland State. More.

Gronk promises he will play Sunday


(AP) Star tight end Rob Gronkowski stood in front of his Gillette Stadium locker Monday and announced he will be playing in the New England Patriots' opener at Miami this Sunday. More.

USC CB Shaw: I lied about saving nephew


(AP) Josh Shaw has been an exemplary teammate and a valuable leader at Southern California, earning his fellow Trojans' trust and praise after transferring home to help his family two years ago. More.

Carroll calls penalties disappointing


(AP) Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll says he's disappointed his team has been docked two practices next offseason for excessive physical contact in a minicamp in June. More.

Manning gets fine after taunting Texans safety


(AP) Peyton Manning has been docked a reported $8,268 for taunting Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger in a preseason game last week. More.

Timbers D Paparatto suspended for 1 game by MLS


(AP) Portland Timbers defender Norberto Paparatto has been suspended for a game after elbowing Seattle's Chad Marshall in the back of the head during Sunday's game. More.

Love: I'm 'committed long term' to Cavs


(AP) Kevin Love's phone rang in July and LeBron James asked the All-Star forward if he wanted to play with him in Cleveland. More.

Browns WR Gordon suspended for 2014


(AP) Josh Gordon's wait is over, and so is his 2014 season. Now the star wide receiver's career is in peril. The Browns learned . . . more.