Trail Blazers-Rockets Preview
Houston Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff is confident his team won't get caught looking ahead to the All-Star break.
While James Harden may ponder next weekend's festivities as the Rockets' lone All-Star, he certainly won't look past a couple of matchups with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Harden looks to bounce back from one of his worst offensive showings of the season Saturday against a Trail Blazers team he routinely torments.
The Rockets (27-25) started slowly Thursday against slumping Phoenix, trailing 20-5 midway through the first quarter before scoring 37 in the second period en route to a 111-105 win. Corey Brewer had a season-high 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 22 as Houston scored a season-best 38 points off 24 turnovers.
Winners of two in a row following a three-game losing streak, Bickerstaff isn't worried about the Rockets thinking about their approaching week-long break.
"Mental toughness, the ability to focus, understanding how important each game is for us, won't allow us to do those things," Bickerstaff said. "We trust our guys to do the right things and prepare themselves the right way. We go into the All-Star break Thursday and we won't allow - they won't allow themselves - to do anything otherwise."
After this game, the Rockets won't play at home again until Feb. 27 against San Antonio. They visit Golden State on Tuesday and Portland (24-27) the next night before resuming a five-game road stretch after the break with Phoenix, Utah and the Trail Blazers again.
Harden probably has the dates with Portland circled.
Since joining the Rockets before the 2012-13 season, his 32.8 points per game against the Blazers are the most by any player.
He has four 40-point games in his last five matchups, tallying 45 in this season's first meeting, a 108-103 overtime win Nov. 18 that tipped off hours after the unexpected firing of Kevin McHale. He had all nine of Houston's points in the extra session after scoring 17 in the fourth quarter.
Harden had 17 points - 10.7 below his average - on 4-for-19 shooting Thursday, as he failed to score in the first quarter for the first time this season.
Rebounding from an off night hasn't been a problem for the four-time All-Star, as Harden is averaging 33.9 points in the games immediately following the seven prior times he's scored fewer than 20.
Portland has a dynamic scorer of its own in Damian Lillard, who had 15 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter Thursday against Toronto. However, it wasn't enough in a 110-103 loss that snapped a season-high five-game winning streak.
Lillard, who added 11 assists, has been in a bit of a shooting slump from 3-point range, though, going 6 of 31 in the last five games. He went 10 for 10 from the free-throw line but made 1 of 6 3-point tries and shot 6 of 19 at Houston in November, totaling 23 points and six turnovers.
Lillard and Harden are among the league leaders in turnovers with Lillard at 3.3 per game and Harden averaging 4.4.
The Blazers are on the road for the first time since Jan. 18 after going 5-2 on a homestand and have won four of six away from Portland. They started the season 5-14 on the road.
"It doesn't get any easier. James Harden and Memphis (on Monday), going into their house. That's going to be tough," guard C.J. McCollum said. "The schedule is swinging back to stronger teams, upper-echelon teams and we got to compete every night."