News of 41-year-old basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s death on Sunday rocked not only the NBA world, but the world as a whole. Despite this terrible news, the league ended up going through with all Sunday and Monday games. One game on Tuesday between Bryant’s former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Los Angeles Clippers, was cancelled.
While the league is proceeding with a heavy heart, the schedule is continuing mostly as normal. Today, the 20-27 Portland Trail Blazers will host the 29-17 Houston Rockets (10 p.m. ET Wednesday on ESPN).
Portland’s season has been disappointing after a 53-win campaign and a Western Conference Finals appearance last season. Part of it is due to injuries, but general underperformance and a lack of chemistry are also factors.
The Rockets have stumbled a bit in January, losing six of their last 10 games, but some minor injuries and rest keeping players out for some of the past few games could have a galvanizing effect on the team for the rest of the season. They could have their Big Three of James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Clint Capela all back on the floor for today’s game.
Who will win this West battle? Here USAbetting analyzes this NBA game and then makes some Houston Rockets vs Portland Trail Blazers predictions with this preview’s concluding betting picks.
Will James Harden’s Time Off Help His Three-Point Shot?
Coach Mike D’Antoni and the Rockets always make sure they milk James Harden for all he’s worth. Harden leads the NBA in minutes per game (37) and also is tied for the lead in usage percentage (36.6), according to the league’s official website.
Prior to the Rockets’ last two contests, Harden had played 43 of the 44 Houston games this season. He sat out the past two contests due to a thigh bruise suffered against the Minnesota Timberwolves. A little time off is probably a good idea for the questionably overworked superstar.
Harden’s last six games before the two-game absence saw him make a measly 11 out of 63 three-point attempts (17.5 percent). While he is questionable for this game, I think he’ll make the push to play. Assuming he does return on tonight, it will be interesting to see if some rest helps gets his legs underneath him for better three-point shooting.
Will the Ball Move For Portland?
The Trail Blazers have an above-average offense this season, despite their disappointing campaign. Ball-dominant guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are excellent at creating their own shot from all three levels: at the rim, from the midrange area and behind the three-point line. Not surprisingly, Portland ranks dead last in the NBA in assists per game (19.9).
However, the Blazers have the highest potential to win this game if they move the ball a bit better. Lillard and McCollum need to make a priority of keeping the ball hopping against a Rockets team that isn’t very deep and will get fatigued if it has to move a lot on defense. In particular, Houston’s two stars (Harden and Russell Westbrook) are both poor off-ball defenders who can be exploited by an offense that features a lot of ball and player movement.
Look for the Trail Blazers to aim for 25 assists or so in this game in order to take advantage of the Rockets’ defense effectively.
Who Wins the PJ Tucker-Carmelo Anthony Matchup?
Both Rockets and Blazers have power forwards who act as key role players for the team. Tucker for Houston and Anthony for Portland both have significantly better statistics when their squads are at their best. Each guy has his limitations, but when their strengths are magnified in certain games, they help their teams significantly.
Of course, their goals for success for this game are somewhat different. Anthony is probably wanting to score 20 to 25 points. Tucker struggles as a scorer and has been especially off recently, but he is a defensive specialist who will be happy if he can keep Anthony’s points total low and contribute as a rebounder and passer.
Look for this matchup between a pure scorer and a defensive stalwart to be a major predictor of the overall outcome of the game.
Our Betting Preview’s Houston Rockets vs Portland Trail Blazers Predictions with Picks
I see the game off for the Rockets’ Big Three as a potential turning point for the team’s season. This is especially true, since they saw what some of their teammates could do in a big road win against the Utah Jazz on Monday.
The Blazers’ season seems to be gradually slipping from their grasp. Hassan Whiteside’s season has looked good on the stat sheet, but his defense, effort and chemistry with teammates have all been poor. He is likely getting traded, and Portland’s general upheaval heading into the trade deadline may keep the team from playing its best. These are our Houston Rockets vs Portland Trail Blazers predictions:
- In this game, Houston is favored by 2 or 2.5 points with the big offshore bookies offering online betting to USA clients. Regardless of the status of Houston’s injuries, I think you should bet on the Rockets -2pts @ -110 with Intertops.
- I think Houston could pick up the pace a bit more as it plays with energy due to the return of at least one key player (Westbrook), if not two more. Bet the over 238.5 total points being scored @ -110 with Bovada, 5Dimes, Intertops or Bookmaker.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.