The Portland Trail Blazers won’t have much time to celebrate their 103-93 win over the Indiana Pacers last night. Portland heads to Houston to face the struggling Rockets. Houston has limped out to a 1-4 record to open the season behind poor pick-and-roll defense. To make matters worse for Houston, they will be without reigning MVP James Harden, who is nursing a grade 1+ strained hamstring.
All of that points to an easy Blazers win, but it won’t necessarily be a cakewalk for Portland. Tonight’s matchup is a classic schedule-trap game for the Blazers. This game will mark their fourth game in six days, their third game in four days (all on the road against Eastern Conference foes) and the second of a back-to-back set with overnight travel across time zones. After beating Indiana, the Trail Blazers left that night for Houston, and gained an hour along the way. The Rockets haven’t played in three days.
The Blazers will need to focus on neutralizing Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll. Eric Gordon continues to be a dangerous kick-out option from long distance, and Clint Capela is efficient rolling to the rim.
On the other side of the ball, it will be interesting to see if Zach Collins can continue his strong run of play. The Rockets don’t have a great defense, but Capela is a solid rim-protector. Al-Farouq Aminu has a chance to get right offensively against Carmelo Anthony, who is another minus defender. But everything starts with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Lillard is having another outstanding season thus far, averaging 1.18 points per possession; second in the NBA among high-possession players. With the Rockets failing to guard the pick-and-roll with any effectiveness this season, Lillard has a chance to put up some big numbers.
Houston and Portland kicks off at 5pm. Make sure to tune in to 102.9/750 The Game immediately after the buzzer for the Last Quarter with me, Peter Sampson, to talk Blazers and the rest of the NBA.