Portland can’t stop winning. On the back of an incredible 13-game winning streak, they have catapulted into third place in the Western Conference standings, where they have given themselves a two game buffer over their nearest rivals. The Clippers were the Trail Blazers' latest victim. Portland won that game 122-109, thanks to an all-round performance which saw all five of their starters score at least 16 points.
Their opponents on Tuesday, the Rockets, are in some pretty handy form of their own. After beating Minnesota on Sunday, Houston have now won five games in a row, and 22 of their last 23. James Harden was the driving force behind their latest win, putting up 34 points and 12 assists in 37 minutes of playing time. Chris Paul chipped in too, contributing 18 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.
Three keys to the game
Who’s form is better? - Portland, on their current 13-game winning streak, boast the eighth best offense and the second best defense in the league during this time, and their net rating of 10.6 is behind only Utah and Houston. The Rockets, during their 22-1 streak, have been even more impressive, boasting the league’s best offense and third best defense in this time.
Battle of the backcourts - These sides have two of the best backcourts in the league. Harden and Paul have run an incredible offense this season, and combined average 49.7 points, 16.7 assists and 3.7 steals per game. McCollum and Lillard are perhaps slightly less accomplished, but they are still extremely talented, and Lillard has been in particularly unbelievable form of late. Together, these two average 48.4 points and 9.7 assists per game this season.
3-point shooting - Houston take easily the most 3-pointers in the league, while the Blazers are one of the most efficient teams from long range this season. The Rockets 42.1 attempts per game is seven more than their nearest rival, and their 36.5% efficiency from deep places them around the middle of the league. The Blazers take far less, with their 27.7 attempts bottom ten in the league, but they connect with great regularity. Their 38.0% efficiency from downtown is behind only the Kings and the Warriors.
Matchup to watch
Chris Paul vs Damian Lillard - As great as it would be to see Harden and Lillard go head to head, Paul will likely be tasked with the most difficult defensive assignment for the Rockets in the game. Lillard averages 29.1 points and 6.1 assists in March, and averaged 31.4 points and 6.7 assists in February. He has been the major catalyst for Portland’s winning streak, so Paul will need to be at his defensive best in this game.
Paul himself is still, at 32 years of age, more than a handful on the offensive end of the floor. This season, he averages 18.7 points, 8.0 assists and 1.8 steals. Though he is the second most dangerous member of Houston’s backcourt, he is still an extremely good player, meaning Lillard will need to be on his game at both ends of the floor.
Portland Trail Blazers predicted starting lineup
PG - Damian Lillard | SG - CJ McCollum | SF - Al-Farouq Aminu | PF - Maurice Harkless | C - Jusuf Nurkic
Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup
PG - Chris Paul | SG - James Harden | SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - PJ Tucker | C - Clint Capela
The backcourts have been on fire in the two matchups between the teams this season. In the first game, Harden dropped 48 points on Portland to lead his side to victory. Lillard has scored 35 and 29 points in the two games respectively, while McCollum has scored 28 and 24. Paul has perhaps been the pick of them all in the two matchups, scoring 26 points and dishing out seven assists in the first game, before contributing 37 points and 11 assists in the second.
The over/under points total has been set at just 214.5 points in this game, and the over is a terrific bet here. Both sides play good defense, but this will be a fast-paced affair, and the two offenses are too good not to put up big scores. The previous two matches they have played against each other this season have accumulated 241 points and 233 points, so back the over in this game.
This has the potential to be one of the games of the season. These two sides are playing some of the best basketball we have seen in 2017/18, and with the game being played in Portland, expect it to be really close.
Past matchups between the sides have shown that both backcourts have been far too good offensively for the other defensively, so expect Harden, Paul, Lillard and McCollum to put up some good numbers and make this a high scoring game.
This will be close throughout, though with the potency of each offense, expect some major runs from both sides. The game will be in the balance towards the end of the final quarter, but Houston will just be able to sneak over the line to make it 23 wins from their past 24 games, and end the Trail Blazers winning streak at 13. Houston will just manage to earn themselves a victory here, with a 118-115 result.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 10:30pm ET.