Rockets vs. Trail Blazers preview: Rockets continue push for sixth seed

Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE

The Houston Rockets head up to the north west to face the Portland Trail Blazers. Chandler Parsons is out, LaMarcus Aldridge is back, and James Harden will look to replicate his last effort against the Blazers.

The Houston Rockets head to the Rose Garden to take on the Portland Trail Blazers in a Western Conference matchup Friday. The Rockets are still in position to move up to the sixth seed in the West, while the Blazers playoff hopes have gone with the win while they sit a full six games behind the eighth-seed Los Angeles Lakers. Houston, meanwhile, is just a game behind the sixth-seed Golden State Warriors.

The Rockets had been without James Harden for two games because of soreness in his foot, but Harden returned when they played the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday and jumped right back on the horse with 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Harden is currently fifth in the league in scoring at 25.9 points per game.

Portland will have a return of its own, with LaMarcus Aldridge back in the lineup after he missed four games. Aldridge sprained his ankle against the Brooklyn Nets, and the Blazers lost all four games that he was out.

While Harden and Aldridge are both playing Friday night in the second-half of ESPN's double-header, both Chandler Parsons (calf) and Nicolas Batum (shoulder) will not be playing. Starting in Chandler's place will be Francisco Garcia.

There are a handful of interesting match-ups with these two teams. From Jeremy Lin in a point guard showdown against rookie Damian Lillard, James Harden defending Wesley Matthews, and the big man battle between LaMarcus Aldridge and Omer Asik, there's plenty of individual battles to keep an eye.

Still, all those individual match-ups can be shadowed by the dominance of Harden, who has shown that he's more than the average shooting guard. The Rockets made their splash when they acquired the Sixth Man of the Year in Harden and made him their top option. In doing so, the Rockets offense has enough fuel to run with the best in the league.

The Rockets offense averages 106 points per game, good enough for league best. With that, their pace is also at the top at 96. With such high volume offense comes higher defensive responsibility, which is where the Rockets struggle. They give up an average of 102.3 points per game -- 28th in the league.

To keep up with such a pace, the Rockets sacrifice rebounding. While Asik does a great job individually pulling down 11.6 rebounds per game, their second-best rebounder is Parsons (who is out) at 5.4 per game. Portland will have to take advantage of an area of the game where they have a clear leg up, with Aldridge who pulls down 8.9 boards per game, and double-double machine J.J. Hickson who grabs 10.7 per game.

Two of the teams' earlier meetings went into overtime, which eventually led to victories for Portland. In their last meeting, however, the Rockets dropped 118 points on the Blazers as Harden put on a show with 35 points, 11 assists, and seven rebounds. Aldridge had 31 points, but when Houston's offense is clicking the momentum can become insurmountable.

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Odds: Houston Rockets favored by 4 1/2, via Oddsshark.com

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