Game preview: Portland Trail Blazers @ Houston Rockets

On Halloween, James Harden led the Rockets to a win and spoiled the Pistons’ home opener. Last night, James Harden led the Rockets to a win and spoiled the Hawks’ home opener. There is a pattern emerging in the NBA and the league has now officially put the Rockets on ‘spoiler alert’ status. Tonight at 7 pm Harden will finally take his talents to Houston and be in front of his new home crowd as the Rockets will host the Portland Trailblazers in their own home opener.

Many were discounting the Pistons win on account that Detroit isn’t a very good team; however, no one can say Atlanta doesn’t have at least a decent team.  The result was still the same. The Rockets are now 2-0 and their 82-0 season remains intact.  Tonight, though, will be another difficult test as Portland and its young, talented core comes into town.

While the Rockets have one of the youngest and now, arguably, best backcourt tandem in the NBA in Jeremy Lin and Harden, they will face off against a potent Portland backcourt in Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews. Lillard may be a rookie but this kid can ball. In his debut, he scored 23 points and dished out 11 assists, and on Friday, his totals were a little lower at 21 points and 7 assists.  (On Friday, though, he only had 2 turnovers whereas he finished with 6 turnovers in his debut.) These types of numbers are not supposed to happen this early for the number 6 pick in this year’s draft but it is happening – Lin will have his hands full in tonight’s game. As for Matthews, he is deadly from three point land – the Rockets’ perimeter defense had better be on full guard.

Ever since acquiring Harden, Rockets fans have been trying to decide who the Rockets should target next to team with Harden. Last night, the Rockets got a good look at Josh Smith.  Tonight, they will have an up close and personal look at Lamarcus Aldridge.

It was a relief to see Patrick Patterson on the floor on Friday.  The Rockets will need his defensive prowess again tonight to guard the beast that is Aldridge. Where Smith possesses athleticism, Aldridge possesses finesse. Aldridge uses this finesse to be one of the most efficient scorers in the league.  He can post up, hit the mid range jumper with deadly accuracy and can even hit the occasional three when needed.

The last weapon Portland has at its disposal rests at the small forward position. Nicolas Batum, originally drafted by Houston in the 2008 draft,  last year quickly emerged as Portland’s #2 option once he began to start. Batum can be somewhat inconsistent as was seen during the first two games this season. Batum had a very respectable game against the Lakers on Halloween when he scored 26 points on 56% shooting but was completely shut down Friday in Oklahoma City where he was held to only 3 points on 1-11 shooting and was a whopping -17. Chandler Parsons is very capable of shutting Batum down, but Batum has been very good at times against Houston in the past.  (He averaged 19.5 ppg against Houston last year.)

Rounding out the starting lineup for both sides are the two centers. Omer Asik is coming off a poor shooting performance against Atlanta in which he did not score in seven attempts but more than made up for his lack of offense by grabbing a career high 19 rebounds and playing his usual stellar defense. For Portland, J.J. Hickson will man the center position. Since being rescued from Sacramento last year, J.J. has been a pleasant surprise for Portland and he is averaging a double double in points and rebounds early on.  But like Asik, do not expect Hickson to create his own shot – he gets most of his points through put backs and dunks.

Finally, both teams have pretty thin benches, especially the Rockets as Kevin Mchale has refused to play any rookies thus far.  Thus, it will be a crap shoot to see who will perform a spark off the bench for either team. It is worth noting that Marcus Morris did redeem himself somewhat last night in Atlanta by scoring 17 points off the bench in only 19 minutes of action.  Look for him to build off of that strong performance.

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