With a two-point lead and less than one second remaining in Game 6 of their first-round matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, the Rockets could hardly wait to welcome Rip City back to Houston.
Damian Lillard made that wait more than seven months long.
With Portland looking for its sixth consecutive victory, the two teams will meet Monday night for the first time since Lillard's buzzer-beating 3-pointer sent Houston packing from last season's Western Conference playoffs.
Portland's offense has been firing on all cylinders during its current win streak. After opening the stretch with 95 points in a victory over Indiana, the Trail Blazers have averaged 113.8 points - the best mark in the league since Dec. 15.
Lillard, who called his May 2 buzzer-beater "the biggest shot of my life," scored 17 points Saturday as Portland (22-6) steamrolled New Orleans 114-88. The win came just one day after the Trail Blazers - led by Lillard's 43 points - outlasted San Antonio in a 129-119 triple-overtime thriller.
LaMarcus Aldridge's stellar play, especially on the glass, has been a key component to that success as well. He's grabbed 12 or more rebounds in each of his last five games - a streak he's managed on just two other occasions in his career, both last season.
"I really like the way he's been rebounding the ball," coach Terry Stotts told the Trail Blazers' official site. "I think he's averaging over the last four games 14, 15 rebounds and they're big rebounds. They're in a crowd, important rebounds. We kind of, I don't want to say expect them, what he does offensively for us, inside and outside, but his rebounding has really been as good as it's been all season."
After battling inside with Tim Duncan and Anthony Davis, Aldridge and the Blazers get another big test against Dwight Howard. Aldridge averaged 29.8 points and 11.2 rebounds in their postseason matchup while Howard put up 26.0 points, 13.7 boards and 2.8 blocks per contest.
Howard has averaged 21.5 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in four games since returning from a knee injury. The Rockets, however, have failed to turn those performances into victories, as a 104-97 loss to Atlanta on Saturday marked the second time this season they have dropped consecutive games. Houston (19-7) fell at home to New Orleans on Thursday.
The Rockets allowed the Hawks and Pelicans to shoot a combined 48.7 percent while shooting just 39.0 percent themselves. James Harden went 13 of 39.
"The last couple of games the ball hasn't been falling the way we wanted it to and the defense hasn't been where we need it to be," Howard said. "But we can't lose focus."
Corey Brewer and Alexey Shved, acquired in a three-team trade on Friday, are expected to suit up Monday in their first action for the Rockets. Brewer averaged 10.5 points and 2.3 steals this season with Minnesota, while Shved averaged 9.9 points in just under 17 minutes per game for Philadelphia.
Houston won 10 of the last 12 regular-season home meetings with Portland before dropping the first two games of the playoff series at the Toyota Center.