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Houston Rockets @ Portland Trail Blazers on 12/12/2013

A lot has happened since the last time the Houston Rockets faced the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s only been a month since their last meeting, when the Rockets beat the Blazers on their home floor. At the time, nobody expected the Blazers to be this good or to attain this kind of record. The 15 point victory was just another pit stop on the way to contention. But now, November 5th’s events look quite a bit different. Now, the Rockets have something to prove in Portland.

With the season a quarter done already, the shape of Houston’s team is beginning to appear. The Rockets have given up on the “twin towers” experiment they were running initially, choosing to run Dwight Howard and Ömer Aşık separately instead of together. The change has been drastic and immediate. The more comfortable “1 in, 4 out” scheme of surrounding a defensive center with four three point threats is more Houston’s speed, and has resulted in a string of solid wins… and a couple poor losses. Now, the Rockets face off against a top-flight Western Conference team to prove that they’re in the contention conversation.

The Rockets’ victory over the Blazers came after a brutal loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the only team to have beaten the Rockets by double digits so far. Houston bounced back and looked locked in against a Blazers squad that was only beginning to come together as a surprise contender. The victory was keyed by efficient shooting from Dwight Howard and Harden, as well as solid defense on LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland’s resident post presence and mid-range assassin. The good news is that the Rockets didn’t even shoot their threes particularly well and still won by 15. The bad news is that the Blazers didn’t shoot well either.

In more good news, Jeremy Lin seems prepared to return to action tomorrow. Aaron Brooks has been holding the fort adequately in Lin’s absence, but the Jeremy is frankly on a different level. The only difference between Linsanity era Lin and his performance this season has been that he’s expected to do less, and he’s shooting better. Patrick Beverley’s defensive pedigree may have earned his the starting spot, but Lin’s scoring prowess and ability to play in the pick and roll are a huge part of this Rockets team. There’s a reason Lin finishes games, even if he doesn’t start them.

Speaking of the pick and roll, both Portland and Houston have trouble defending against them, which might be very interesting. Both teams are good at running them, and should be proactive in using them. This game might become something of a shootout, in which case there’s no telling who should win. Between Nicolas Batum, James Harden, Damian Lillard and Jeremy Lin, there’s a lot of firepower between a lot of shooters on that floor. If players start heating up, this game might resemble a round of NBA Jam.

Both teams have good reason to want this game badly, as both are seeking to cement themselves as elite not just in the standings, but in the eyes of the world as well. The trade rumors have quieted down about LaMarcus Aldridge, but the Ömer Aşık gossip mill is at an all time high. Both teams are expected to be on the fringes of contention at best, something which these two young teams are trying to make into a lie. In the cutthroat Western Conference, you’re only as good as the last team you beat. Whichever team wins in Portland on TNT is going to have a fine trophy to hang over the mantle.

Tip off is at 9:30 pm Central time at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon.

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