Timing is everything in the NBA. Players want to have a career year in the last year of a contract so that they can get paid (see: every contract year player ever). Teams want bad contracts to come off the books right when a prime target free agent is available (looks at Golden State). And organizations want to keep their championship window open for as long as possible and hope to get lucky enough for their opponents to lose two of their All-Stars in the Finals (*cough Toronto cough*).
Timing is just as important for teams when it comes to regular season games. You never want to catch a hot team at full strength in the regular season, even though players will always say they do. The regular season is all about wins. You don’t get style points.
The Blazers and Rockets are all about timing, especially in their matchups. When the teams met early in the year, the Rockets were on a 7-game winning streak while the Blazers were mired in a 2-10 stretch. Houston won in a rout.
Then the two teams met twice in January. In case you forgot, January was the month where James Harden fell off a cliff. Harden shot an abysmal 35.5% from the field to go with 27% from deep. He shot a combined 26.7% from the field in the two matchups with Portland in January. The first game was also Carmelo Anthony’s first against his former team, and you could tell that Melo really wanted to beat Houston. The Blazers won both games by double digits.
Coming into this one, neither team is riding reverse momentum. As you may have heard, the Rockets have won both of their bubble games. Portland won a HUGE game against the Memphis Grizzlies in their first game to pull the Grizz back to the 9-13 pack, but then the Blazers lost a tough one to the Boston Celtics. After trailing by 20+ for a large chunk of the game, Portland stormed back and took the lead in the fourth quarter, only for Boston to hit enough threes to pull away late. Still, the Blazers have scored 140 and 124 points in their two games, so Houston will have to play with defensive intelligence and effort to slow down Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Gary Trent also went off against Boston, hitting seven of his 11 three point attempts.
Portland also brings size and lots of it. The Blazers start two 7-footers in Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. And when they go to the bench, Hassan Whiteside checks in. Similarly to the Bucks, Portland has enough big bodies to really give Houston trouble. And while the Lopez twins can post up, the Blazers’ bigs are really good at rolling to the hoop and punishing poor switches and help defense. That’s been a Houston bugaboo all year, so we’ll see how the Rockets respond.
Tip-off is at 8pm CT on TNT and AT&T SportsNet Southwest