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Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers game preview

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

In the words of legendary soccer (or football, if you will) manager Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s “squeaky bum time.”

Well, at least it is for teams in the 3-10 spots in the Western Conference.

With Houston secured as the top overall seed, the games are relatively academic at this point. Sure, the Rockets want to continue to strive to gain their rhythm back. Their win over the Wizards on Tuesday was a great sign as Houston played its most complete game since their recent win over tonight’s opponent, the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Blazers have clinched a playoff berth, but still need two more wins to clinch the third spot. The Blazers have squandered opportunities lately against the Grizzlies and Mavericks in the last week that they could regret if they don’t close the season strongly. In fact, the Blazers’ closing schedule is brutal. After their game in Houston, they travel to San Antonio and Denver. Should they lose those games and Utah wins out, the final game of the season in Portland against the Jazz could have major ramifications on playoff seeding and could drop Portland into a seed lower than third, which seemed ridiculous while the Blazers were on their 13-game winning streak.

Houston could still probably stand to give a couple of guys a night off, including P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela. Staying healthy is the most important thing down the stretch for Houston.

I expect Portland to fight hard for this one and for Houston to push for it, too. The “no layups” beef is still alive and Chris Paul and C.J. McCollum will both carry that standard for their squads. Of course, James Harden is trying to put the finishing touches on his MVP season so he doesn’t need any motivation to give 100%.

Tip-off is at 7pm CT