The Houston Rockets will take on the Portland Trailblazers in tonight’s matchup. Here are some key things to look for as the Rockets look to take the win.
Game three of the Rockets return will feature the Rockets and the Portland Trailblazers. This is another intriguing matchup for Houston, and an opportunity for the team to again show they have enough answers defensively to be a real factor once the NBA playoffs begin.
Portland has a dynamic scoring backcourt that can go toe to toe with Houston’s own tandem offensively, and big man Jusuf Nurkic presents another challenge for the height deficient Rockets frontcourt. Nurkic coming off a huge night against the Celtics is averaging 24 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists in his return from a serious leg injury. He presents a more physically punishing presence then Kristaps Porzingis or Brook Lopez. It will be interesting to see how Mike D’Antoni decides to deal with him.
The advantage shifts to the Rockets at almost every other position. James Harden should be able to score at will against the Blazers. Neither McCollum or Lillard has the size to match up with him, and noone else on Portland is a good enough defender to even stay close to him. I would expect a big night from Harden.
Carmelo Anthony has finally found a team he can be a useful piece for after floating around the last few seasons. He’s shooting well from 3 point range (.377) and providing some offense. Unfortunately he was a bad defensive player in his prime and now he’s an abomination. Robert Covington or Danuel House should feast on him.
While the Rockets bench has a crew of inconsistent performers, two of the Blazers top reserves are Hassan Whiteside and Mario Hezonja. That would be fine if they were trying to qualify for a playoff birth in Lithuania, but it’s comical for an NBA team. The Blazers miss the approximately 500 year old Tervor Ariza on both sides of the ball. Gary Trent’s scoring is nice but Houston’s reserves should absolutely outperform Portland’s.
While the Rockets should be able to beat Portland comfortably, the x-factor remains Lillard and McCollum. How D’Antoni chooses to defend the Blazers guards will offer a window into his strategy going forward. Anthony and the recently returned Zach Collins are not the most athletic forwards, but do provide size and shooting. Will Houston try Harden on Collins or Anthony, putting Danuel House or Robert Covington onto Lillard? Will they need Harden to help on Nurkic, potentially opening up space for Carmelo or Collins to hurt them from deep? What will the Rockets do if either guard gets hot?
The Blazers are bigger in the front and have explosive scorers in the backcourt. Ultimately their lack of depth will be their undoing in a Rockets win. I’m hoping to see a more coherent plan for how Houston will adjust and shut down opponents with size going forward. Portland will lose, and the Rockets can make a clear statement heading into the playoffs.