Blazers run ragged in prep for Rockets

Houston brings Harden, lots of pick and rolls

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. — Nicolas Batum felt that Thursday's practice had warped the Trail Blazers back to the beginning of October.

"It was a hard practice," Batum described. "We played a lot of games. We competed all day today. All day. Every time a team (would) lose, they'd run and keep running. It was almost like training camp today. Almost."

Hardly a coincidence that the Blazers (3-5) get their running legs back -- their first time on the floor since the Tuesday night win in Sacramento -- before meeting the Houston Rockets and their motor James Harden.

"It's tough because he uses a lot of pick and rolls," Wesley Matthews said of Harden, whom he called a friend. "You got to take a lot of bullets. He's going to keep coming at you. They're going to keep throwing the ball to him. He's going to be aggressive. He's going to have seven footers try to take your head off on screens, (and) get him open looks but I look forward to that matchup."

Harden, with his left-leaning drives and Euro-stepping moves, dominates the Houston offense.

He ranks second in the league in scoring at 24.6 points per game and his 50.6 percent Player Impact Estimate (PIE), a calculation that quantifies an individual's statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in, is best among Houston starters.

And by Batum's estimation, the Rockets' plays are 75 percent pick and rolls and mostly feature Harden.

So, in other words, Harden's a load — and one that Matthews must carry once again.

On Nov. 3 when the Blazers ruined Houston's home opener, Matthews drew the tough cover, even slapping the ball out of Harden's hands on the last play of regulation.

The Blazers won in overtime 95-85 and Matthews deserved credit for muting the Harden buzz — during the Rockets' first two games,

The Beard had scored 37 and 45 points, respectively, but only 24 on 8-of-24 shooting against Matthews.

"He's a good offensive player. He's methodical, he knows where he's good at. He knows how to get to his strengths and that's what he does," Matthews said, then simplified his assignment.

Matthews just can't let Harden do what he pleases on Friday night.

"His damage comes when he gets inside the 3-point line," Matthews continued. "My job is to make it hell for him to get past the 3-point line."

Aldridge wrist better

A day's rest and bags of ice have nursed LaMarcus Aldridge's tender right wrist.

On Monday against the Atlanta Hawks, Aldridge strained his wrist by overextending it on a tumble to the court.

His shooting wrist still bothered Aldridge in Sacramento but on Thursday, he reported feeling some improvement.

"It's better, it's a little tender still but it's definitely better than what it was (on Wednesday)," Aldridge said, then joked. "It's hard because it's my right hand and I do everything with it. As you all know, I don't go left."

Aldridge said he tried going to his weak side twice during that Hawks game and each play ended in turnovers. But during Thursday's practice, Aldridge looked like a natural southpaw — at least, according to Aldridge.

"I went left like four times," Aldridge said with a smile. "I actually scored every time."