Trail Blazers-Rockets Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- One night after putting on a remarkable shooting display, the Houston Rockets came up short against the defending champions their last time out.
Getting back on track could prove difficult against a Portland Trail Blazers team that's had their number thus far.
The Rockets return home looking to avoid a third consecutive loss to the Trail Blazers on Friday night.
While Houston (27-24) tied an NBA record with 23 3-pointers and posted its most points in 18 seasons Tuesday in a 140-109 rout of Golden State, it got all it could handle at Miami on Wednesday. James Harden had 36 points, a career-high 12 rebounds and seven assists for the Rockets, who lost 114-108 after falling behind by as many as 17 in the third quarter.
"We had a tough run scoring the basketball," Harden said. "We even got stops, but the big plays where we needed to make a play, they got stops - so that was the difference in the ballgame."
Houston also had its hands full in two overtime defeats to the Blazers, 95-85 at home Nov. 3 and 119-117 in Portland on Nov. 16.
Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge and star rookie Damian Lillard averaged 28.0 and 23.5 points in those victories, while Nicolas Batum scored a career-high 35 in the second meeting.
"I think we are a really confident team in close games because we've been in that situation so many times and we've been successful," Lillard said despite losing 105-99 at Dallas on Wednesday. "So, anytime it's a close game and it comes down to needing a stop or a big basket, we have a confident team and we've been successful in those situations."
The Blazers (25-24) haven't taken three straight from the Rockets in the same season since 2002-03. They had dropped 12 of 13 in Houston before winning two of the last three.
After kicking off its six-game road trip Monday with a 100-98 win over Minnesota, Portland committed a season-low six turnovers but was outscored 22-9 in transition by the Mavericks.
"I think we definitely had a chance to win," said Aldridge, who had 27 points and 10 rebounds for his season-high sixth consecutive double-double. "We still have to do better."
Portland, which allowed Dallas to shoot 10 of 20 from 3-point range, limited the Rockets to a season-worst 19.2 percent in the first meeting. Houston has gone 23-9 when shooting at least 34.4 percent from long distance.
While much has been made about Harden's 25.8 points per game - good for fifth in the NBA - he's averaging 8.3 assists in three games this month.
"I try to get my teammates open shots (early in the game) so the defense kind of opens up a little bit," he said. "I'm the main option. My confidence has to be up to show my teammates that we can come out here and win these games."
The Rockets, scoring 105.8 points per game to rank second in the league, have won three straight and 16 of 21 at home while averaging 112.9.
Batum, who continues to play through pain in his right wrist, is averaging 8.0 points over his last six games - 7.5 less than his season mark.
Updated February 7, 2013