PREVIEW: Blazers at Rockets- Dec. 17

Dec 16, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) watches his team warm up before the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Blazers at Rockets- Dec. 17

The Rockets will continue their season-long seven-game homestand when Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers visit Toyota Center on Saturday night. Portland had won three in a row before Friday’s 20-point drubbing in Dallas, but they are still sixth in the West in year two under Chauncey Billups.

Eye on the Blazers

Record: 16-13 (Sixth in Western Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 114.2 (9th)

Defensive rating (rank): 114.1 (24th)

Without Lillard, the Blazers beat the Rockets 125-111 when the two teams met in October. Houston had no answers for Anfernee Simons, who finished with 30 points, or Jusuf Nurkic, who added 27 points and 15 rebounds. Lillard is back after an abdominal injury limited him to just 29 games last season, though he hasn’t been completely healthy. The game he missed against the Rockets was the first of 11 he’s had to sit out of due to a calf injury. In total, the member of the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team has missed 12 games this season, and Portland has lost seven of them. Along with Lillard’s return, a big reason for the Blazers’ resurgence this season has been the addition of Jerami Grant, who was acquired before the draft in a trade with Detroit. Grant has played in 28-of-29 games this season and is averaging 22 points per game on 47% shooting.

Matchup to watch: Damian Lillard vs Kevin Porter Jr.

Lillard has known the Rockets guard since he saw him play at the Blazers practice facility as part of the Team USA U18 team. Lillard thought he was the best player in the gym that day, and his respect for Porter has grown since he entered the NBA.

“The talent level is through the roof,” Lillard said after a game last season. “He can do everything. Personally, one of my favorite players in the league, and I’m just happy to see him get an opportunity to spread his wings.”

Porter will have his work cut out for him on Saturday. Lillard is averaging 28.5 points per game this season while shooting 46% from the field and 40% from behind the 3-point line. The Blazers are scoring 120.6 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor, and just 108.1 when he’s off, and Lillard is just 46 points away from passing Clyde Drexler as the Blazers’ all-time leading scorer.

What I’m watching for

Daishen Nix missed Thursday’s game against the Heat due to an illness, so TyTy Washington moved into the Rockets rotation as the backup to Kevin Porter Jr. Washington played well after a shaky start and finished with two points, three rebounds, five assists, and zero turnovers in 12 minutes. Nix is not on the Rockets’ injury report, so he should be available to play Saturday, but his play behind Porter has been uneven at both ends of the floor this season, so it will be interesting to see if Stephen Silas gives Washington another look.

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