Blazers eager for Rockets rematch

Portland aims to contain Houston's Howard, Harden

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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Thursday, a national audience will tune in to see the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Houston Rockets at the Moda Center.

The Rockets handed the Blazers their first home loss of the season on Nov. 5, something they haven't forgotten.

"We are going to try and get payback," said Nicolas Batum.

The Rockets have been much better defensively since the two teams last met. The Blazers, too, have improved a great deal.

The Rockets struggled defensively in the early season but have turned things around as of late. They come in as the seventh best defense, measured in points allowed per 100 possessions.

The Blazers are three games ahead of the Rockets in the standings but Houston gave Portland their largest margin of defeat this season of 15 points.

"They are an explosive team," said head coach Terry Stotts. "They are really difficult to guard. They shoot threes, get to the rim, shoot free-throws. Harden is as good as they get in drawing fouls and scoring."

Harden and Howard shot a combined 22 free-throws and Harden made some very tough shots in the fourth quarter to put the Blazers away.

"We have to contain James Harden and Dwight," said Batum. "They killed us last game. We have to contain those two guys and we will have a pretty good chance to win it."

Despite losses to the Jazz and Suns, the Rockets have been playing well, especially since they moved Portland native Terrence Jones into the starting lineup in place of Omer Asik.

The starting lineup of Howard, Jones, Harden, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley have been world-beaters on both ends, defending and scoring at rates that would be the best in the league per NBA.com

Their new starting lineup has only appeared in nine games this season, due to injuries, but they've gone 8-1 in games when those five have played together.

"One of our two losses at home," said Wesley Matthews. "They are a tough team. It's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be rocking, I think it's a TNT game. So everybody is going to get up for that. We just have to continue to play our style."

"I think we're playing better," Stotts said. "They're playing better. We just have to do what we do at a high level and be consistent with it. "