Rockets-Trail Blazers Preview
By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- The Portland Trail Blazers aren't getting much bench production and their defense has to get better, but they're hard to beat when they're hitting from 3-point range.
The Houston Rockets found that out earlier this month.
Portland will try to avoid a fourth consecutive home loss Friday night when the Rockets open a three-game western swing.
It's still early, but the Trail Blazers (3-5) have to be concerned with a bench that's averaging a league-low 12.8 points. Their defense also has plenty of room for improvement, as their opponents are shooting 49.4 percent from the field.
Portland, though, has three of the NBA leaders in 3s made with Nicolas Batum (22), rookie Damian Lillard (20) and Wesley Matthews (18). Led by Lillard, who had team highs with five 3s and 22 points, the Trail Blazers hit a season-best 14 from long range in 27 attempts in Tuesday's 103-86 win at Sacramento.
Portland shot 32.2 percent (28 for 87) from beyond the arc while dropping its previous four contests. Ten of the 3s during that slide came in Saturday's 112-109 loss to San Antonio.
"This is a team that can make 3s. They take a lot of 3s (23.0 per game)," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "If they're hot and making shots, you're going to have a tough cover."
The Rockets' perimeter defense was lacking in a 95-85 overtime home loss to Portland on Nov. 3. The Trail Blazers were 10 of 24 from beyond the arc in that contest, with Batum hitting four and Lillard and Matthews going a combined 5 of 13 to help Portland end a four-game skid in this series.
The Trail Blazers, losers of three straight at home to the Rockets, haven't dropped four in a row at the Rose Garden since Feb. 6-16.
Houston (4-4) makes its first trip to Portland this season after Wednesday's 100-96 win over New Orleans capped off its 2-1 homestand. The Rockets, though, know they need to put together a more complete effort during this trip after the Hornets outscored them by 15 in the final 24 minutes.
"We can't keep getting these double-digit leads in the first half and give them away," forward Chandler Parsons said. "We've got to come out there in the third quarter with energy and not allow that."
The Rockets didn't look very energetic in the third quarter on Nov. 3 when they were outscored 27-18 en route to a home-opening defeat.
James Harden, who scored 24 points in that loss, might be looking forward to getting away for a few days. The Houston newcomer is averaging 33.3 points on 51.6 shooting in three road games compared to 22.2 points on 38.9 percent from the field at home.
The Rockets' bench could also play a crucial role during this trip. Houston's reserves finished with 32 points on Wednesday, with Marcus Morris (13) and Toney Douglas (12) doing the most damage.
Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge did plenty of damage in Houston earlier this month, finishing with a team-high 27 points and 11 rebounds.
J.J. Hickson had 12 boards for Portland in that game while Rockets center Omer Asik grabbed 15. Asik (12.9) and Hickson (11.9) are among the NBA rebounding leaders.
Updated November 15, 2012