The Portland Trail Blazers (48-30) suffered a setback as they fell to the previously struggling Dallas Mavericks, 115-109. Star point guard Damian Lillard led the way with a team-high 35 points with eight assists. CJ McCollum had 16 points while Jusuf Nurkic added a strong double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. However, the bigger news for the Blazers was that Lillard sprained his ankle late in that game. He is considered day-to-day and will miss their matchup against the Rockets.
Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets (63-15) bounced back from their worst loss of the season against the Spurs to pound the Washington Wizards, 120-104. James Harden had a huge night with 38 points (12-18 FG, 5-8 3-PT FG), ten rebounds, and nine assists. Clint Capela also had a huge night with 21 points and ten boards. However, Chris Paul was once again not quite at his best. Appearing in just his second game in three weeks, Paul finished with just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting with six assists.
Three keys to the game
Blazers backcourt - With Lillard out, the pressure will obviously be on his backcourt mate CJ McCollum to take on a much bigger role in the offense, both in terms of scoring and playmaking. It’ll also ask more of Shabazz Napier, who has fallen off significantly over the last couple months. The Blazers will need him to rediscover his form from earlier in the season, when he was consistently putting up 20-point games, especially when Lillard was sidelined due to a hamstring injury.
Chris Paul - Despite the Blazers’ best efforts, the Rockets have a perfect 3-0 record against them this season, in large part due to Paul’s brilliance. CP3 has put up an impressive line of 28.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 8.0 assists in three meetings against them. He’s obviously been nowhere close to that form as he battles through a leg problem. But with Lillard out, this could be a good opportunity for him to regain some of his rhythm against an opponent he’s had a lot of success with.
Jusuf Nurkic - Nurkic has been playing a lot more consistent ball of late, putting up nearly 16 points, ten rebounds, and two blocks in under 30 minutes over his last ten games. That includes a terrific 21-point, 11-rebound, four-block performance in a losing effort against the Rockets. The Blazers will need a lot more from him with Lillard out, and he must be prepared to make the most out of his increased role if the Blazers are to finally get one over on the Rockets.
Matchup to watch
CJ McCollum vs James Harden - McCollum will once again get a taste of being the main man for the Blazers with Lillard out. And if the Blazers have any chance of leaving Houston with a win, he’ll need to out-duel Harden in their personal matchup. Obviously, that will be easier said than done. The likely league MVP has smoked McCollum for over 40 points in his two games against him and will be eager to do so again.
Blazers projected starting lineup
PG - Shabazz Napier | SG - CJ McCollum | SF - Evan Turner | PF - Al-Farouq Aminu | C - Jusuf Nurkic
Rockets projected starting lineup
PG - Chris Paul | SG - James Harden| SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - Luc Mbah a Moute| C - Clint Capela
Obviously, Lillard’s absence should lead to more usage for McCollum, Napier, and Nurkic. But given how unconvincingly Napier has played recently, it’s not exactly a guarantee that he can deliver even with added minutes and usage. McCollum and Nurkic should have a better chance of going off for a huge game.
Meanwhile, Harden and Paul are the two main candidates for the Rockets to burn the Blazers once again. But apart from them, Eric Gordon could also be an interesting fantasy option. He averaged 21.7 points in his last six games prior to his disappointing nine-point outing against the Wizards. He should look to bounce back against the Blazers, against whom he’s averaged 20 points and four boards in three meetings this season.
The Rockets have gotten the better of the Blazers through three games this season. It's hard not to see them completing the sweep, especially since they're at full strength while Portland are without their star point guard.
The Rockets complete the sweep of the shorthanded Blazers with a comfortable 114-104 win.
This game will be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet - Southwest and NBC Sports Northwest. Tip-off is at 8:00 pm Eastern.