Rockets-Trail Blazers Preview
Despite big efforts from James Harden and Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets have already tried - and failed - twice to halt the Portland Trail Blazers' hot streak.
The second double-digit loss to the Blazers this month caused interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff to refer to his team as "broken," and the Rockets are still seeking a fix in the final meeting.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will try to accomplish something no teammates have in the past six years Thursday night when Portland looks to extend its longest winning streak in 15 months to seven.
After McCollum had 31 points and Lillard added 30 in Sunday's 115-111 home win over Utah, the dynamic duo scored 34 apiece in Tuesday's 112-104 victory over visiting Brooklyn.
Now the guards have a chance to achieve a feat not even Golden State's Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson nor Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant has done in recent years. They can become the first teammates with at least 30 points in three straight games since Golden State's Corey Maggette and Monta Ellis in January 2010.
"It's comforting for me to know that I can pitch ahead to CJ and be on the weak side and if he gets trapped, they can swing it to me, but I've got a lot of confidence in him having the ball," Lillard told the team's official website Tuesday following the team's 15th win in 18 games.
Perhaps motivated by his exclusion from the All-Star Game, Lillard has become the first Blazer to score at least 30 points in five straight since Geoff Petrie in the franchise's inaugural 1970-71 season. Lillard's tear has included a career-best 51-point effort last Friday in which he made 9 of 12 from 3-point range in a stunning 137-105 home win over league-best Golden State.
Portland (30-27), which has averaged 118.4 points on 48.5 percent shooting in its last five games, hopes to keep climbing after moving up to sixth place in the Western Conference. It's also going after its longest winning streak since a nine-game march in November 2014.
''We can't let our guard down,'' coach Terry Stotts said. ''I'm glad we're making a move.''
The Rockets have had a couple of shots to end the run, but Lillard and McCollum totaled 37 points in Portland's 96-79 road win Feb. 6 and Lillard led the way with 31 in a 116-103 home victory Feb. 10. Harden and Howard have done all they can, teaming for 50 points and 22 rebounds in the home loss before finishing with 62 and 22 in the most recent meeting.
The rest of the Rockets (28-29) totaled 70 points on 29.2 percent shooting in those games. Bickerstaff had enough after the last one, calling it a "broken team" and "fragmented."
Houston responded with a 116-100 win at lowly Phoenix last Friday, but Harden's 42 points weren't enough in Tuesday's 117-114 overtime loss at Utah that dropped the club out of a playoff spot. Harden also scored 45 in a 108-103 overtime home win over Portland on Nov. 18.
The Rockets could have a difficult time slowing the red-hot Blazers this time after allowing 112.8 points per game and a 46 field-goal percentage during a 3-7 stretch.
"Our focus is on us right now," Bickerstaff said. "We are not worried about the other teams."