The Pick: Blazers, 108-99
In the first matchup of the top two scoring offenses in the NBA, the Rockets won in convincing fashion (116-101) on the road, but they are a long-shot to repeat that success. In that game (five weeks ago), Houston got “the good” Dwight Howard and James Harden (combined for 62 points and shot 79.2 percent from inside the three-point line) and owned a very unlikely edge from the free throw line. The Rockets not only outscored the Trail Blazers by nine points from the stripe (twice their standard advantage over Portland), but the second worst free throw shooting team in the league (69.7 percent) made 82.4 percent of their attempts while Portland (the top free throw team in terms of accuracy at 81.7 percent) shot a mere 65.5 percent. Had both teams lived up to their season average shooting percentage from the free throw line, this would have been a six-point game, and that’s with the Rockets’ star players performing above their expected rate and not a single Blazer shooting over 50 percent from the field.
In addition to the expected advantage at the free throw line, I’m looking for the home team to create distance from the three-point line. They are the second most accurate triple-shooting team in the league (41.5 percent) and the Rockets allow opponents to shoot the third most three-pointers in all of basketball. Portland’s primary perimeter player (Damian Lillard) is even more lethal from distance at home (47.3 percent), giving him the potential to be tonight’s MVP.
While Lillard has been great on the outside, the secret behind the Blazers 18-4 start has been LaMarcus Aldridge. The eighth-year pro is averaging a career best 23.2 points and 10.0 rebounds on top of his 80 percent free throw accuracy, a stat line that only Kevin Love shares with him. The Rockets have size on the inside, but I have a hard time envisioning any of them being able to deal with the agility of Aldridge on the perimeter. If Aldridge and Lillard can outscore Howard and Harden, the odds of Portland covering this small number increase in a big way.
When Houston has the rock, they rely on the three-point shot as much as any team in the league (35.2 percent of their shots come from distance). Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem in a high-scoring game, but the Trail Blazers are actually the sixth stingiest defense in terms of opponent three-point percentage (33.8 percent). Houston excels at getting to the free throw line (league high 32.6 attempts) and getting the most value per field goal attempt (league high 1.37 points per shot), but Portland ranks in the top 10 when it comes to preventing both, meaning it is unlikely that we see Houston reach their 108 points tonight.
Fun Fact: The Trail Blazers are attempting 11 more two-point field goals at home than the Rockets are on the road this season.