Rockets-Trail Blazers Preview
By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
(AP) -- The Houston Rockets are surging and getting healthier as they gain ground in the Western Conference standings.
The Rockets have won three straight on the road as they try to complete this trip with another victory Monday night against a Portland Trail Blazers team that figures to be desperate.
Houston (31-25) won 104-87 at Sacramento on Sunday, moving one-half game ahead of seventh-place Dallas in the crowded West. The Rockets won Monday in Chicago and returned home before starting this trip in impressive fashion with Friday's 112-107 victory over the Lakers.
"We had a huge win at Chicago, now we've got two in a row on the road," guard Goran Dragic said. "This year we haven't played well on the road, but this would be a great time to start. We're playing very well as a team right now. We have great team chemistry."
After Dragic led the way with 21 points in Chicago and 26 in Los Angeles, Courtney Lee scored a team-high 25 on Sunday as the Rockets never trailed and led by as many as 22.
"We're a deep team, everyone on this team can play," Lee said. "We're moving the ball, we're executing on offense."
Dragic had 15 points and nine assists as he continues to start in place of Kyle Lowry, who played Sunday for the first time in a month after missing 15 straight games due to a bacterial infection that required hospitalization. Lowry missed all three shots, but had seven assists in 17 minutes.
"I was glad to be back. I wanted to play last game but coach (Kevin McHale) said no," Lowry said. "It wasn't a break I wanted to take, but I definitely feel good."
While Houston has improved its position, Portland (27-30) is 3 1/2 games out of the West's final postseason spot. The Trail Blazers are beginning a three-game homestand after a dreadful second-half performance in Saturday's 116-94 loss at Milwaukee.
Portland was outscored 62-31 after taking a nine-point lead into the break. The Bucks scored 40 of the game's final 54 points.
"I thought we came out energized, focused, ready to go," interim coach Kaleb Canales told the Trail Blazers' official website. "We had a great first half, probably one of our best offensive halves of the season. But again, it starts and ends with the defensive end for us."
LaMarcus Aldridge, the team's top rebounder with 8.1 per game, had three boards to match his season low in any game in which he logged at least 2 minutes. Portland was outrebounded 49-20.
"We need five guys committed to rebounding," Canales said. "We have to give them credit. Tonight they did a good job of beating us on the boards."
Houston has won both 2011-12 meetings with Portland. Lowry scored a season-high 33 in a 107-105 overtime victory Jan. 14 and Chase Budinger had 22 as the Rockets blew a 19-point lead before winning 103-96 at the Rose Garden Feb. 8.
Kevin Martin started both those games for the Rockets, but he's out with a shoulder injury. Gerald Wallace started both for the Blazers, but he was traded to New Jersey on March 15.
Updated April 9, 2012