The Houston Rockets have begun the NBA restart with two impressive victories.
The Rockets look to make it 3-0 in the «bubble» environment near Orlando when they oppose the Portland Trail Blazers at The Arena on Tuesday night.
Houston has averaged 136.5 points in the two victories, which includes a solid 120-116 win over the NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.
The Rockets trailed by eight with over three minutes to play but kicked things into a higher gear and finished the contest with the decisive 16-4 burst. Houston took the lead for good on two free throws by point guard Russell Westbrook with 20.6 seconds left.
«(It) just shows that we’re able to execute in close games, which is going to be big in the postseason,» Westbrook told reporters following the triumph. «We’re using these games to kind of gear up for that, so that’s a big-time thing for us.»
Westbrook scored 31 points and has tallied 20 or more in 36 consecutive games.
Backcourt mate James Harden scored 24 points but was just 5-of-14 shooting. Harden poured in 49 on 14-of-20 shooting in Friday’s 153-149 overtime win over the Mavericks.
Harden was highly impressed that his club scored 30 points off 23 forced turnovers against the Bucks. He saw it as an example of how Houston’s small-ball philosophy works against bigger clubs.
«Everybody says we’re undersized, but you’ve gotta keep fighting,» Harden said afterward. «Once we get that ball, we’re out. It just takes good spirit, good fighting, and making sure we’re communicating.»
The Rockets look to keep their solid play going against a Portland club that needs to string together wins to have a chance at reaching the postseason.
Portland is 1-1 in the restart after Sunday’s 128-124 loss to the Boston Celtics. The Trail Blazers are two games behind eighth-place Memphis — current holder of the final playoff spot.
Portland trailed by as many as 24 points before narrowing the gap against the Celtics, and coach Terry Stotts doesn’t think there will be a carryover effect.
«With the urgency of playing six more games, I don’t think we’ll have a hangover,» Stotts told reporters. «I think if anything, we’ll take away that we played extremely well in the second half, which showed what we’re capable of doing against a really good team. We know what’s at stake, and honestly, we know we don’t have time to have any hangover after a loss.»
But perhaps just as pleasing to the Trail Blazers was seeing backup guard Gary Trent Jr. drain a career-best seven 3-pointers and score 21 points.
«He’s in a real rhythm,» Stotts said of Trent. «He’s shooting with confidence. For him to be out there and space the floor, not only does it create opportunities for him but it opens it up for other people.»
Portland has won two of three meetings with Houston this season with the victories coming by 10 and 13 points. The Rockets rolled to a 132-108 triumph in their win.
Westbrook is averaging 32.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 9.3 assists against the Trail Blazers, while Harden is averaging just 22.3 points and 5.3 assists.
Lillard is averaging 24.7 points, 9.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds for Portland and recorded his first career triple-double in a 125-112 home win on Jan. 29. Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum is averaging 23.7 points.
Houston guard Eric Gordon (ankle) will miss his third straight game.
–Field Level Media