**NOTE** This preview was written before the Houston Rockets' Wednesday morning decision to fire head coach Kevin McHale.
Things are going really bad for the Rockets. Between a players-only meeting and a distinct amount of ugliness in recent games, I have decided that instead of writing about my disgust at the way Houston is playing, I would get creative and do something different. Shoutout to my brother for the idea.
In order to root for a team living up to its potential, I am going to write today's preview from the opponent's perspective. Therefore, the preview format will be different. Ready?
The Rockets are coming in at 4-7 and are on a 4-game losing streak in which they have looked awful. They don't hustle and they never seem to get back on defense. With the Blazers nursing a 6-game losing streak, someone has to win tonight. Odds are that the team that hustles is the favorite to win.
Tonight's game is at the Toyota Center in Houston. While the Blazers would rather this game be played in front of the raucous
Moda Center Rose Garden, the Rockets are a paltry 2-5 at home this year so this is basically a home game for Portland. Of course, the Blazers are 2-5 on the road so again, someone has to win.
The Blazers need to ride their horses tonight. That means giving Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and the possibly returning Rocket killer himself, Meyers Legend. With a plethora of playmakers, the Blazers should be able to get any shot within their offense tonight.
Remember two years ago when the Blazers stomped Houston in the playoffs in a blowout 4-2 series win? The Blazers attacked Harden over and over again. They ran 1-2 screens to get Lillard matched up with the Flopper King and Dame killed him to the tune of 50 points per game.
Last year, Harden started trying on defense. It sucked because it left us with one fewer thing to laugh at him about. But then he started dating a Kardashian and he stopped trying on defense. So now the key for Portland here will be to attack him. Or really, to attack anyone besides Trevor Ariza or Dwight Howard. They seem to be trying, so the Blazers would be wise to stay away from them. But the odds are that even if they aren't trying, they'll have a better than 50% chance of having a favorable matchup on offense.
Oh, and if you do drive and Howard is there, throw up a floater. It's a guarantee that he'll goaltend. He always does.
The defensive strategy is easy: just stand around and rest up so you can have energy on offense. Houston's offensive sets are nonexistent or at least stagnant. There's a lot of players standing around. Really, if the Rockets were standing around more you would think they were statues.
Houston started off their last game by luckily hitting some threes. For Portland, that means they might have to weather a storm. The good news is that Houston will have one mini-run in the game, total. So if Portland can withstand the run, they will be free to set up an inevitable 20-point victory.
As for real sets, Portland will be able to leave several players wide open without fear of them doing damage. Who are those players, you ask? It's literally everyone except the bigs. Clint Capela, Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, and Montrezl Harrell are doing what big men are supposed to do and all four are shooting above 50% from the field.
The next best shooter for the Rockets is Marcus Thornton, and he only shoots 43%. Trevor Ariza is shooting an abysmal 34% but still finds a way to take 11 shots per game. Corey Brewer is shooting 30% and is hoisting up 8 shots per contest. Savior Ty Lawson is shooting 33% and looks afraid to start the offense. So the good news is that Portland can leave their man on the perimeter to swarm the bigs in the paint at any time without fear of getting burned by an open 3. Because Houston will miss, you see.
That brings us to James Harden, last year's runner-up for MVP who won the players' version of the award. He also declared himself the best player in the game but so far this season has, for lack of a better word, sucked. Taking 20 shots a night is great when you're making them, but Harden is shooting is shooting a worse percentage than rookie Cliff Alexander. Just let that sink in.
So as long as Portland doesn't foul Harden too many times (around 10 will be fine), the Blazers are going to hold the Rockets to under 40% shooting and will force 20 turnovers just by standing on the court.
And those turnovers are going to lead to some easy buckets and some Sportscenter highlights. Duh nuh nuh, duh nuh nuh!
Here's when Portland will stick the knife into Houston. The Rockets haven't gotten back on defense in transition once this season, so any live-ball turnovers will lead to two or three points for the good guys. It will also cause the Toyota Center crowd to quickly turn on their hometown heroes and give the Blazers bench a rallying cry. Rockets fans have booed the team in both of the last two games. Blazers fans will never boo the Blazers. Even if Damian Lillard got a copy of Game of Thrones spoilers and started reading them out loud over the loudspeaker we would cheer for him. Even if Meyers Leonard said that all short and ugly people deserved to be deported we would cheer. If Terry Stotts claimed that James Harden was better than Cliff Alexander, we would...quietly remove him from Oregon.
But we would never boo.
Key to the Game, presented by (Insert Portland company here)
Stay out of Houston's way. They will find a way to lose this matchup no matter what. If the Blazers take a lead and you think "Oh Houston will adjust," don't worry! They won't! They'll call a timeout and you'll assume that Kevin McHale is drawing up some fancy new defensive scheme, but in actuality he's just setting up a 2-3 zone that is hilarious to watch.
These young Blazers have played hard and it's wonderful that the six-game losing streak is ending tonight.
Lillard hits the game-winner with 0.9 seconds so Houston fans can get a taste of the glory we got two years ago HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! POINT NINE LOL SUCK IT HOUSTON!!!!!!!!!! POOOOOOIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNTTTTTTT NIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNEEEEEEE!!!!! POINTNINEPOINTNINEPOINTNINEPOINTNINEPOINTNINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!0.9!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Check out the enemy perspective over at The Dream Shake.
Trail Blazers vs Rockets coverage
P.S. This hurt to write. I will never do it again. I am so sorry.
Programming note: Danny is taking the Friday preview against the Memphis Grizzlies. Hopefully he'll write it from the Rockets' perspective.