Trail Blazers-Rockets Preview

One night after putting on a remarkable shooting display, the

Houston Rockets came up short against the defending champions their

last time out.

Getting back on track could prove difficult against a Portland

Trail Blazers team that’s had their number thus far.

The Rockets return home looking to avoid a third consecutive

loss to the Trail Blazers on Friday night.

While Houston (27-24) tied an NBA record with 23 3-pointers and

posted its most points in 18 seasons Tuesday in a 140-109 rout of

Golden State, it got all it could handle at Miami on Wednesday.

James Harden had 36 points, a career-high 12 rebounds and seven

assists for the Rockets, who lost 114-108 after falling behind by

as many as 17 in the third quarter.

“We had a tough run scoring the basketball,” Harden said. “We

even got stops, but the big plays where we needed to make a play,

they got stops – so that was the difference in the ballgame.”

Houston also had its hands full in two overtime defeats to the

Blazers, 95-85 at home Nov. 3 and 119-117 in Portland on Nov.

16.

Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge and star rookie Damian Lillard

averaged 28.0 and 23.5 points in those victories, while Nicolas

Batum scored a career-high 35 in the second meeting.

“I think we are a really confident team in close games because

we’ve been in that situation so many times and we’ve been

successful,” Lillard said despite losing 105-99 at Dallas on

Wednesday. “So, anytime it’s a close game and it comes down to

needing a stop or a big basket, we have a confident team and we’ve

been successful in those situations.”

The Blazers (25-24) haven’t taken three straight from the

Rockets in the same season since 2002-03. They had dropped 12 of 13

in Houston before winning two of the last three.

After kicking off its six-game road trip Monday with a 100-98

win over Minnesota, Portland committed a season-low six turnovers

but was outscored 22-9 in transition by the Mavericks.

“I think we definitely had a chance to win,” said Aldridge, who

had 27 points and 10 rebounds for his season-high sixth consecutive

double-double. “We still have to do better.”

Portland, which allowed Dallas to shoot 10 of 20 from 3-point

range, limited the Rockets to a season-worst 19.2 percent in the

first meeting. Houston has gone 23-9 when shooting at least 34.4

percent from long distance.

While much has been made about Harden’s 25.8 points per game –

good for fifth in the NBA – he’s averaging 8.3 assists in three

games this month.

“I try to get my teammates open shots (early in the game) so the

defense kind of opens up a little bit,” he said. “I’m the main

option. My confidence has to be up to show my teammates that we can

come out here and win these games.”

The Rockets, scoring 105.8 points per game to rank second in the

league, have won three straight and 16 of 21 at home while

averaging 112.9.

Batum, who continues to play through pain in his right wrist, is

averaging 8.0 points over his last six games – 7.5 less than his

season mark.