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Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers game preview

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The Rockets and Trail Blazers settle their season series tonight. They are currently tied 1-1 on the year.

If Josh Smith were Zach Randolph and LMA were Harden, this wouldn't be a foul.
If Josh Smith were Zach Randolph and LMA were Harden, this wouldn't be a foul.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a long time since you got a long preview from me. My apologies.

After a rough 4-games-in-5-nights stretch for the Rockets that included one game without James Harden and another game where they were screwed, it's nice that Houston hasn't played since Saturday. Time off allows the Rockets to work out some kinks and get healthy.

Plus, having more rest than your opponents is always nice. I mean, the Rockets have had 3 days off. There's no way the Blazers also got 3 days off.

Of course they did.

The Rockets have dealt with injuries for most of the year. The Rockets are currently without Dwight Howard, but there was a time where they were missing Dwight, Terrence Jones, Patrick Beverley, AND Isaiah Canaan. It was rough.

Outside of Jones, we knew they would be back. In fact, almost every playoff team in the West has lost a key player for an extended amount of time. But none were out with season-ending injuries until Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles against Dallas. Matthews has always been a thorn in Houston's side and has defended Harden well for stretches. I feel for Blazers fans losing a starter, but don't count this team out. There's still a ton of talent over there and as Bill Simmons loves to say, they'll be this year's "NO ONE BELIEVES IN US!" team in the playoffs.

The story tonight will be Game 6. We totally agree that Game 6 should be in the forefront.

Tip off is at 9:30pm CST on ESPN.

Matchups:

Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Damian Lillard

I traded for Voldemort in fantasy and suddenly he fell into a slump. Of course, he's picked his game back up just in time for Houston.

I wonder if they'll show a certain video clip 800 times tomorrow? Because they haven't shown it enough.

And now for your enjoyment and just to have a little bit of fun, I will now put on my Blazers fan hat and imitate a trolling fan. While this is a clear exaggeration, the meat and potatoes are all sentiments that I have seen here and around the net.

***

Subject: Harden shouldn't be the MVP-0.9

I think we all remember what happened the last time Houston was in Portland lol.

All Harden does is snap his head back and draw fouls. Give this man an Oscar! He doesn't play defense. I mean, 0.9 am I right? Take away the free throws and he's a nobody and wouldn't even be in the league. MVP? More like MVFTs! Look, Portland's all about being weird and I can appreciate a good beard but Harden is just not a good player. He can't carry a team on his back.

And Dwight sucks! He was practically invisible the last time we played Houston!

And did I mention 0.9? Because maybe I didn't mention that there was 0.9 left on the clock when Lillard made the GREATEST SHOT IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND! In fact, that shot was way more more important than the one that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and started World War I. YEAH I'M CALLING OUT THE BLACK HAND!

Plus, Houston's best player (Terrence Jones) is actually from Portland, so Blazers>Rockets. Because 0.9 forever.

***

Note: I say all of this in fun, but please play nice if you head to Blazer's Edge or any other Blazers blog. Losing to Portland sucked and of course it sucks that the NBA is going to play the Lillard shot forever and ever, but I think Rockets fans are starting to get over it. So let's not reignite the fight that everyone loses: the Internet fight.

Advantage: Blazers

Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Arron Afflalo

Where would Portland be without Afflalo? If the Blazers don't trade for A-R-Ron, Portland would have to depend on heavy playoff minutes from some combination of Steve Blake, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, and Dorell Wright. That doesn't strike fear into anyone's heart (except Blake, who's been one of those Rockets killers).

I'll write a little more about Harden next game, because I do want to write a little bit about how crazy this whole MVP discussion has gotten. For today, it will be important for Houston try to switch Lillard onto Harden so that Afflalo and Batum aren't defending him. Houston hasn't run that 1-2 pick-and-roll between Beverley and Harden much lately, so we'll see if they bust that out tonight.

Spoiler alert: if Harden plays well, Houston can win. If he doesn't, they probably won't.

It's that kind of hard-hitting analysis and hot takes that bring you to TDS, I know.

Advantage: Rockets

Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Nicolas Batum

Batum has played through multiple injuries and for most of the year, it showed. He looked like a shell of himself.

He's recently snapped out of that funk and Portland will need him moving forward. In his last 3 games, he's averaging 17p/9r/6a on 54% shooting.

Houston needs Ariza to keep playing like he did in the third quarter against Denver. The Nuggets came back and Ariza was having none of it. We've talked about Trevor's game what seems like 100 times, but just a reminder: what Ariza gives Houston on offense is pretty much a bonus. He's there for his defense and to knock down the occasional triple. He's been driving a little more recently and taking some dreaded long 2s. He's making them, so I guess he can keep firing away. I do know that the Rockets look at those long 2s and see that certain players shoot with a higher efficiency from there than from 3. If my memory serves, I believe Patrick Patterson had the green light to shoot the baseline jumper because even though he shot well from distance, the baseline 2 was his most efficient shot.

Advantage: Blazers

Power Forward: Terrence Jones vs. LaMarcus Aldridge

Dubbed "LaMarcus Olajuwon" by our own Mike Kerns, LMA tore into Houston last season. D-Mo never defended him in those playoffs and Jones failed miserably. In fact, the only Rocket that had a chance against him was Howard, but since Omer Asik kept getting into foul trouble for standing on the court, Howard was moved onto Lopez to prevent offensive rebounds.

This season the Texas product is averaging 23/10.5. He's such a valuable weapon for them on offense and allows them to run all kinds of actions. He might be the best post player in the game and has such a great jumper that he doesn't mind getting pushed out towards the 3-point line. More than any other player in the league, Aldridge defies the Morey logic of the long 2 being worse than the 3. Speaking of triples, Aldridge is shooting 37% from there but expect that number to triple tonight against the Rockets. I don't care if that's more than 100%.

Advantage: Blazers

Center: Donatas Motiejunas vs. Robin Lopez

Is D-Mo burnt out? You have to think so based on his recent play. He looks tired and his post-ups and push shots, which were automatic earlier in the year, are looking poor.

Not only did D-Mo play with the Lithuanian national team this summer at the FIBA World Cup, but he's also already logged about 250 more minutes than he did in his previous two seasons combined. Add in that he's been playing out of position for large chunks of the season due to Howard's injury and you've got a recipe for exhaustion. D-Mo has come a long way since his scrawny rookie season but banging down low with centers for most of the year is still not something that he's built to do over a sustained period.

When Dwight Howard comes back, I think McHale's decision should be to move D-Mo back to the bench and let Jones start at the 4. D-Mo will be playing fewer overall minutes but it will allow him to bang around down low for a shorter amount of time. The Rockets could also go big with D-Mo at the 4 should McHale decide to go that way. This summer will be fascinating for Houston because they will have to decide how to shake out their big-man rotation. Do they keep Josh Smith? Do they transition D-Mo to a backup 5 full-time? Do they trade D-Mo or Jones and look to free agency to find a backup 5? What do they do with the draft pick? It's Daryl Morey, so I'm sure there won't have a clue what happens. Maybe all 4 of those guys will be gone.

Meyers Leonard has fallen into Terry Stotts' doghouse, picking up a DNP-CD in Minnesota. Of course, Leonard played really well in both games in Houston, so there's a chance that he gets 20+ minutes tonight.

Advantage: Blazers

Bench

Rockets: Propeller Plane, Corey BrewerJosh SmithJoey Dorsey

Blazers: Alonzo Gee, Dorell Wright, Chris Kaman, Steve Blake, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard

Advantage: Rockets

Prediction: Lillard wins it with 0.8 and slowly starts collecting all of the decimals against the Rockets.

Rockets vs Trail Blazers coverage

Blazer's Edge