Green leading Rockets against surging Blazers (Jan 10, 2018)

BY AP • January 10, 2018

HOUSTON -- At some point, Gerald Green will come back to earth, but in the interim, the Rockets hope to ride the hot hand of their new veteran swingman for as long as possible.

Green, a Houston native signed off his couch late last month, has averaged 17.3 points over his first seven games with the Rockets (28-11), who will host the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday at Toyota Center. But more than his production, Green has provided Houston exceptional perimeter shooting, burying 3-pointers at a rate far above his career norm.

Over 10 previous NBA seasons, Green converted 36.1 percent of his 3-pointers while hoisting 3.5 per game. He has feasted in the Rockets' offense, taking 8.3 treys per contest and connecting on 50 percent of his attempts. That efficiency is unsustainable, but given that Houston is facing a multi-week stretch without injured guard James Harden, the league's leading scorer, everything Green provides is welcome for however long he provides it.

With only three wins over their previous 10 games, the Rockets merely need Green to contribute. That he has progressed this rapidly after missing the opening two-plus months of the season bodes well for his future with Houston after he returns to prime game shape.

"Every day I'm feeling better," Green said following the Rockets' 116-107 victory at Chicago on Monday. "I felt really good as far as my wind; I wasn't as tired as I normally would be. My conditioning is picking up really quick.

"I'm not where I need to be but it's getting there. I'll give myself another week or two at the most, and I think I should be right there."

The Trail Blazers (22-18) opened their four-game road trip with a 117-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night, their third consecutive win and fourth in five games. Portland has discovered this groove despite the absence of guard Damian Lillard, who has missed seven of nine games including both of the last two victories with a right calf strain.

Portland has thrived by striking an impressive scoring balance without Lillard, led by guard C.J. McCollum. In their 110-89 victory over the Atlanta Hawks last Friday, seven Blazers scored in double figures paced by McCollum, who tallied a team-high 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting.

Two days later, McCollum completed a 25-point performance with a game-winning runner with five seconds remaining, giving Portland a 111-110 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. In the triumph over the Thunder, McCollum posted a game-high 27 points on 11-for-19 shooting.

During the Blazers' three-game win streak, McCollum is averaging 24 points while shooting 53.6 percent from the floor including 42.9 percent on 3-pointers. He is averaging 21.5 points this season, second on the team to Lillard (24.9), and has thrived with the added responsibility.

Portland can expect more of the same from McCollum against Houston, but its defense will be as critical as anything accomplished by its balanced scoring attack.

"It's a different game," said Blazers guard Shabazz Napier, who scored 21 against the Thunder. "We have to definitely stay attached to those guys because they're a 3-point shooting team. You've got to make those guys take midrange shots. It's going to be tough but collectively, like we did (Tuesday), if we do a great job defensively and get out and run, I think we have a great chance."

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