Trail Blazers try to find their way against Rockets
PORTLAND, Ore. — The challenge is significant right now for the Portland Trail Blazers, who have lost three straight games — all at home.
The next two games will be against the top two teams in the Western Conference on Saturday at Moda Center against the Houston Rockets (19-4) and on Monday at Golden State (21-6) to begin a five-game road trip.
It’s a daunting schedule for the Trail Blazers (13-11), but it’s one All-Star point guard Damian Lillard said he welcomes.
“I think it’s perfect,” Lillard said. “Our next two games are against the top two teams in the West. Coming off a three-game losing streak, what better situation than to have a chance to take a shot at the two best teams? It’s the perfect situation to put something together.”
The Blazers will have to go without starting center Jusuf Nurkic, who sprained an ankle in Tuesday night’s loss to Washington. Moe Harkless, who regained his starting small forward spot against the Wizards, is questionable with a bruised left quad.
Portland would love to see CJ McCollum come out of a mini-slump. In the last four games, McCollum, the Blazers’ second-leading scorer at 20.7 points per game, has averaged 14.5 points while shooting .342 from the field and .250 from 3-point range.
The Blazers have had one of the NBA’s easiest schedules through 24 games. Despite that, they’re only 7-7 at home.
“It’s not ideal,” McCollum said. “Playoff teams usually perform better at home.”
Houston, meanwhile, is on a roll, having won eight games in a row and 14 of 15 since the start of November. The Rockets are led by shooting guard James Harden, who averages a league-best 31.6 points per game while shooting .457 from the field, .402 from the 3-point line and .871 from the free-throw line.
The Blazers have had trouble defending the league’s premier scorers the past two games. Last Saturday, DeMarcus Cousins exploded for 38 points for New Orleans. On Tuesday, Bradley Beal bombed in 51 points for Washington — the most points ever scored by a Blazers’ opponent in Portland.
Since point guard Chris Paul’s return to the lineup after rehab from a knee injury, forward Ryan Anderson has shot .576 from the field and .563 from 3-point range. His numbers were .423 and .361 respectively in his first 15 games.
Paul has a simple reason: “He can shoot, and I can pass.”
Anderson thinks Paul’s timing and precision make a difference.
“He hits me the instant I’m open, which helps me as a shooter,” Anderson told the Houston Chronicle. “Those are the moments where I know I’m going to get the ball from him, and when I get it, it’s pretty much directly in the numbers. He’s Chris Paul. He’s a great playmaker who helps me a lot.”
Coach Mike D’Antoni is pleased with Anderson’s contribution.
“He is playing well for us,” D’Antoni said. “We have so many guys playing well, he goes under the radar sometimes. But he has really been playing well the last month.”