Writer's edit: I wrote this preview before the news came out last night. Our condolences go out to the McHale family after the passing of Kevin McHale's mother. Family comes first, and McHale understandably won't be with the team in Portland tonight. I hope he takes all the time he needs.
And now for the worst segue ever.
I'm weird with highlights.
I only watch highlights when the Rockets win. When they lose, I avoid highlights like the plague, especially if I didn't watch any of the game. For example, I didn't watch the Rockets lose in Dallas, and I haven't seen any highlights from that game. I know it will break my heart.
I get too into sports. That's not a revelation to anyone here. Heck, if you're on a basketball blog, you probably care a lot about the game. I don't go on baseball blogs, for instance. If I expect my team to lose, I don't get too down when they do. But if they're expected to win, or it's a 50-50 game, I'm devastated when we lose.
I'm more sarcastic the next day. I go around a little pissed off. I have a problem, and I know it.
Mostly, I can't wait to get to the next game to get the sour taste of losing out of my mouth. And yes, I realize that I didn't lose. But I see the Rockets as an extension of myself. I can't stand to see them lose, and I remember each loss as a personal failure.
Which brings us back to highlights.
Last year, James Harden's greatest individual play was this one:
James Harden goes BEHIND the back and BETWEEN the legs! (via NBA)
Bill Worrell and Matt Bullard are crazy homers (whom I love), but even their most cynical critics would have to agree that their reaction to that play was warranted. It's an absolutely incredible display of individual talent and control. When NBA.com released their "Top 10 Plays of the Year" for the stars of the league, this was rightly number one for Harden's list.
But I hate watching that highlight. HATE IT!
Because the Rockets lost that game.
Which, in turn, brings us to tonight and the Portland Trail Blazers.
If you've been a Rockets fan for the last six years, you know what's coming. Sorry, but I have to go there.
On November 6, 2008, the Rockets headed into Rose Garden at 3-1. Daryl Morey had traded for Ron Artest in the offseason and everyone in Houston was buzzing. Sound familiar?
The Rockets and Blazers played a back-and-forth game all night. In the end, 48 minutes wasn't enough time and we got free basketball. With over a minute left, the score was tied still. Here's what happened.
Brandon Roy's Game-Winning Three vs. Rockets (via NBAVideoProvider)
Throughout the final couple of minutes, I was on the phone with my roommate and friend, Noel Bryant. Noel is actually the person who introduced me to The Dream Shake just a couple of months later. We were at a Houston Dynamo game (a win over hated Pachuca in the Superliga tournament) earlier that year when the Artest trade happened, so Noel and I had a special connection that season.
I can't remember why he wasn't there, but for most of the overtime I gave Noel a play-by-play over the phone. When Roy hit the shot with less than 2 seconds, I yelled "SHIT!" right into my phone. When Yao hit the turnaround and got fouled, I yelled into it. And when Roy did that, I went speechless as a helpless Noel asked, "WHAT HAPPENED?"
It was a devastating loss, but there was more. I would be haunted by that highlight in EVERY NBA COMMERCIAL FOR THE NEXT 4 YEARS. Until another superstar hit a more amazing game winner, that was what the NBA used at the end of their promos. And for some reason, superstars went silent those next few years.
Every time I saw it again, I had a flashback to that November night. I can still remember being two inches from the screen. I remember Roy getting a clean look from 40 feet away. And I remember that shot hitting nothing but nylon.
So, I don't like highlights. When we lose.
But these Rockets dating back to last year have given me many more wins than losses. And I've been able to watch plenty of highlights.
Hopefully I'll get to watch 4 from the same year of the Finals one day.
Tip off is at 9:30pm CST on TNT.
Damian Lillard is an amazing player, and he's not slowing down in his second season. He's averaging more points, shooting the three better, and basically giving the same performance across the rest of the board, all while averaging 3 fewer minutes. Dude is legit.
The Rockets get Jeremy Lin back tonight, but need to ease him back in. I expect him to get some spot minutes against the Blazers' second unit and little else. We'll see how Sampson uses him tonight.
On the one hand, Wesley Matthews is hot as a pistol right now. He's shooting 48% from three (!!!) and 53% overall. That's absolutely disgusting.
On the other hand, Harden has been playing better since the Rockets gave him rest for his foot (with the notable exception of the Suns game). The Rockets haven't played since Sunday, but the Blazers haven't played since Monday either. So overall rest isn't an advantage for anyone tonight.
I think Harden is better than Matthews, but it's not by very much right now.
Small Forward: Chandler Parsons vs. Nicolas Batum
No matter what I ever put in this matchup, half of the commenters disagree.
Both Parsons and Batum are really good players.
Parsons is averaging 17/5/4 with a 17.19 PER.
Batum is averaging 14/6/5 with a 17.66 PER.
Batum usually brings his A-game against the Rockets and gets two or three chasedown blocks. So he gets the advantage. Just know that I understand that there will be complaints, and I hear you.
Last time these teams played, Omer Asik started. Dwight guarded Aldridge and vice-versa.
Aldridge is having an MVP-caliber season and seems like he will never fulfill Rockets fans' wet dreams of somehow coming to Houston.
The most important thing tonight will be how much Jones makes Aldridge and Lopez work. He quicker than both and can make the Blazers pay if they sag off him or overcommit. I'm excited because I think we'll get at least a few minutes of Jones vs. Thomas Robinson. THAT should be fun.
I hope Dwight starts to think that every night is his birthday. He's got his work cut out for him on offense tonight since Lopez is a plus defender. The Rockets have to attack the basket early and often to get Lopez out of the game. If they can do that, I think the Rockets can steal this one.
Advantage: Even? It kind of depends on Lin.
Prediction: Blazers are just too hot to handle; Rockets make a valiant comeback effort but fall short, 106-101.