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Game Day: Rockets vs. Blazers

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 126-113 win over the Portland Trail Blazers

Rockets vs. Trailblazers - 01/20/2014

HOUSTON - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Rockets roared out of the gate tonight, blitzing the opposition with a steady stream of long-range missiles that were launched with pinpoint accuracy while the club simultaneously went about the business of carpet bombing the opposing team’s paint with one merciless rim run after another.

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The script, as well as its accompanying numbers, seemed as if it has been taken straight from the first half of Houston’s much publicized evening against the Oklahoma City Thunder a week ago: 71 points; 67 percent shooting from the field; 10-of-13 from distance. This was the dictionary definition of basketball shock and awe. Or Hot Shots Part Deux, if that’s more your style.

Only this time, there was no cease-fire or disappearing act. Even the cooling off period, if you want to call it that, was still plenty warm to the touch. And as a result, the Rockets’ offensive blitzkrieg lasted long into the night, never coming to a close until the club had cruised to a comfortable and thoroughly convincing 126-113 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

“We knew they were going to score a lot of points," said Chandler Parsons of the Blazers’ NBA-best offense. “But they also give up a lot of points and we wanted to make sure we were getting out and running, and we understand that the more stops we get, the more we can get out and put pressure on them.

“When we run our offense like that, there’s not a lot of teams that can guard us. When we move the ball, when we make the extra pass, when we give up ourselves for one another, it’s hard to guard.”

To put it bluntly, that formula proved impossible to defend from Portland’s perspective. The Rockets racked up 27 assists, shot better than 52 percent from the field and knocked down nearly half of their attempts from beyond the arc. And even when their shots weren’t falling, Houston’s hustle, effort and energy allowed the club to collect more than 41 percent of its misses, leading to a whopping 23 second chance points.

Parsons was most definitely the headliner, nearly matching his career-high with 31 points while flirting with a triple-double as well thanks to his 10 boards and seven assists. But singling out just one player on this evening would seem to miss the point of the Rockets’ overall performance entirely. Houston took another step forward on the path toward exorcizing its OKC demons precisely because it played the brand of basketball that puts a heavy emphasis on the collective rather than the individual. So while it may be too late to re-write some of the more unpleasant aspects of their recent history, the unselfish style of play the Rockets employed tonight can go a long way toward helping the team script a much brighter future moving forward.

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

- Think Patrick Beverley was eager to be back in the lineup? Better question: How happy do you think Houston’s players, coaches and fans were to have him? It took Beverley fewer than five minutes to rack up a steal, a deflection and a pair of 3s in his first game action since fracturing his right hand last month in Detroit. He played a pivotal role in the Rockets’ red-hot start as the team began the game hitting 11 of its first 12 shots from the field as Houston got whatever it wanted offensively, be they high quality looks near the basket or wide-open 3-point attempts.

And on the other end of the floor, Beverley’s ball pressure was a sight for sore eyes. On one possession, Beverley so doggedly hounded Mo Williams that Portland wasn’t able to initiate its half-court offense until eight seconds remained on the shot clock. Such sequences have obviously been few and far between in his absence, hammering home the fact that if characteristics like energy and effort are skills, Beverley is downright elite in those areas. Few players are willing, much less able, to bring that sort of relentless tenacity every game and every minute the way he does.

“He’s just so solid, Parsons said of his teammate. “He’s so fearless and he brings that intensity, he plays great defense and he’s very vocal, too. It was so good to have him back and he was knocking down shots and doing everything for us tonight.”

Beverley hit halftime with an insane plus/minus of +26 in just 14 minutes of action and finished the game with the exact same mark in that category while also pouring in 17 points – just two away from his season high – three assists and two rebounds. What a return. In their wildest dreams, there’s no way the Rockets could have imagined Beverley would be quite this good right off the bat.

“I don’t even care about the offense,” he said after the game. “I feel like with our offense, everyone’s going to score. I just think for me to have a successful game it’s doing the little things like getting offensive rebounds and things like that. I grade myself off of that, not by points.”

OK, Pat, so if not points, how about plus/minus? Beverley’s response to hearing he led the team with a +26 in that category: “I must be doing something right.” Indeed.

- Today’s preview (simply scroll down if you missed it) touched on the fact that Dwight Howard has feasted on Portland’s inviting interior defense, as he came into the game averaging 30.5 points on 69 percent shooting from the field against the Blazers this season. The seven-time All-Star promptly proceeded to start the contest 4-of-4 from the field and by throwing down this powerful reverse baseline jam for good measure:

Howard finished with 24 points, 12 boards and 9-of-15 shooting. If it weren’t obvious before, it should be abundantly clear now: Portland simply has no answers for Houston’s monolith in the middle.

He also provided the most comedic moment of the game during the second half when he momentarily found himself alone with the ball at the top of the key. Everyone in the arena could see the wheels turning – Howard wanted to shoot it. He even faked ever so slightly as if he might give into the impulse. But having thought better of it, he quickly handed the ball to James Harden who took and made the 3 instead. The ensuing exchange was classic, with Howard smiling sheepishly and Harden playfully bopping his teammate on the head.

Harden’s lighthearted admonishment continued post-game when asked about Howard's brief brush with temptation. “If I’m open and Dwight shoots a 3 I’m going to curse him out,” Harden quipped.

- Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge started the game by hitting just one of his first seven shots from the field. Of course, any Rockets fans who found solace in that figure surely were quickly sobered upon recalling that Aldridge began 1-of-8 the last time these two teams met. His final numbers that evening: 31 points and 25 boards. And though Aldridge didn’t conclude the game in quite that rarified air, he still put up 27 points and 20 rebounds, becoming the only Houston opponent over the last 25 seasons to post two 20-20 games against the Rockets in the same season. The man is an All-Star for a reason, folks.

- For all of Portland’s faults on defense – and there are quite a few; this is, after all, a bottom-10 unit – keep in mind that one thing the Blazers do really well is run opponents off the 3-point line. But with Houston bludgeoning the Blazers in the paint with regularity, Portland was forced to extend its defense further than it typically would and the end result was a bevy of great looks for Houston from beyond the arc. The Rockets capitalized on those opportunities early and often throughout a first half that saw the team hit 10 of its 13 3-point attempts. And though Houston predictably cooled in the second half, it still finished the game 16-of-33 from distance overall.

- Chandler Parsons’ per-game averages for this season coming into tonight’s game: 16.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest. By halftime he’d already registered 19 points, 5 dimes and 3 boards. It goes without saying that his final line of 31 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists is star-caliber production. Already this season, he has reached the 20-plus point plateau on 13 separate occasions. Every time you think you’ve figured out what his ceiling is as a player, he just keeps raising the bar.

- As impossible as it was to ignore the parallels between tonight’s first half and the opening half – and subsequent collapse – that the Rockets authored against OKC, the key difference between the two contests lied in the fact that the Thunder own an elite defense and Portland, quite simply, does not. Even when the Blazers made their inevitable third quarter run and sliced Houston’s lead to six, the Rockets were still generating quality looks nearly every trip down the floor. When those first-rate opportunities began translating into points again, Houston’s lead ballooned once more.

Make no mistake, the Rockets weren’t certain to win tonight after their first half explosion, but they sure as heck weren’t going to lose because of an offensive power outage. The Blazers just don’t have anything even remotely close to OKC’s length, athleticism and positional versatility on the defensive end. Then again, few teams do.

- During one third quarter stretch, Houston’s players became increasingly frustrated with a series of calls they felt went against them. Those things will happen on a regular basis in pro sports and it’s human nature to get upset in the heat of the moment. But losing one’s composure as a result of those situations doesn’t do anyone any good. The proper response is to simply refocus and redouble your effort, something Donatas Motiejunas did exceptionally well in the aftermath, drawing a charge on Damian Lillard and then following that up with back-to-back offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession. That sequence summed up another solid outing for D-Mo, who finished with 9 points and 9 boards in his return to the starting lineup in place of the injured Terrence Jones.

- With tonight’s win, the Rockets’ record improves to 28-15. Next up for Houston: a Wednesday night date with the Sacramento Kings. Suffice to say revenge will be front and center on the Rockets’ minds given that Sacramento has already knocked them off twice this season.

NOTES AND QUOTES

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN MCHALE

(On responding to runs in the second half) “I thought that we made a run, and got it down, and got an offensive rebound, and kicked it out, made a shot.  We got a couple of run-outs.  We had some really nice ball movement when the ball spun around.  We just kept playing.  We were scoring in the third quarter. We were having a hard time stopping them, but they were having a hard time stopping us.  When you keep scoring the ball and you have a lead, usually you will be okay.”

(On responding to a good second half team like the Blazers) “We just kept playing.  We moved the ball pretty much, for the  most part, well.  (We) went in and got offensive rebounds.  We had seventeen offensive rebounds which helped us a great deal.  They ended up with fourteen, which was a problem in the first half. They were getting a lot of offensive rebounds.  We just kept playing.  Everybody thinks that there is some miraculous big secret, 'they had nineteen points and oh my goodness' ... well, the ball didn't go in.  We missed layups and stuff.  We just kept playing and pushing the ball.  I thought Patrick (Beverley) gave us a huge lift.  I thought his defense was tremendous.  I thought we did a nice job on (LaMarcus) Aldridge, even though he ended up with twenty seven and twenty.  He ended up with twenty six shots to get those, and so we did a nice job there.  Damian (Lillard) was seven of seventeen.  You can live with that.  I thought Chandler (Parsons) was attacking.  We had really good ball movement.  We played off the catch early.”

(On Pat Beverley's contribution to the team) “Patrick just brings a little bit of swagger.  He just kind of gets out there and he says, if you beat him, he says, “Good for you.  Try it again.”  Some of our guys, they get scored on, they're like, 'Oh my goodness.” (Patrick’s) like, he laces up his shorts, and keeps going.  It's no drama.  He just plays hard, and the guys like him, and he moves the ball.  He has no agenda when he plays besides play hard.”

(On stretches when Rockets played small) “Chandler had 10 rebounds, so that really helped.  I thought D-Mo had a nice game for us.  He ended up with six fouls in 22 minutes, but I thought D-Mo did a nice job, and Omri (Casspi) came in and had eight rebounds, which was big.  My biggest fear was when we went small, was that we were not going to be able to rebound the ball.  We ended up doing a good job rebounding the ball.”

PAT BEVERLEY

(On his first game back after being out injured) “I felt good.  I didn't want to go out there and be hesitant.  I appreciate the coaches having that much trust in me.  I was able to get the ball up and get some easy points with Chandler and James.  We played the way we were supposed to play today.”

(On his role on the team) “I hang my hat on defense, and I try to create, that's what they have me (here) for. That's what I will keep doing every game.  We have Sacramento next and they have beaten us twice, so that's our focus right now.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On they key to the win) “They (Portland) are a great team.  They've been playing extremely well.  They went into Dallas and San Antonio and beat those teams pretty easily, so they are playing extremely well.  We knew they were going to score a lot of points, that's what they do, they lead the league in points. They also give up a lot of points.  We wanted to make sure that we were getting out and we were running, and we understood that the more stops we could get, the more we could get out and we could put pressure on them. I thought we did a great job doing that early.  We knew that they weren't going to give up.  They are not the number one team in the west for no reason, so we just had to keep making plays and find a way to win.”

(On Portland cutting the second-half lead to six) “I feel like we have been in that situation so many times, eventually we are going to start playing better and understand it more and be more comfortable in those situations.  I thought we handled it a lot better tonight than we have in the past.  We just have to stick with what works.  A lot of times we get big leads and we start doing silly things and we start changing out offense.  We can't afford to do that.”

(On the play of Pat Beverley) “With Patrick it is great to have that back on the court.  We didn't have that intensity and fearlessness.  He really brought it tonight, and we are glad to have him back.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On the difference in the second half, on how the Blazers made a run and how the Rockets handled it) “First of all, I am happy to have Pat Bev back.  He brings a tremendous amount of energy and defensive effort to our team that we need. He did a phenomenal job at the end of the game, and that's the thing that we missed when we are put in that position.”

(On them having a 70-point first half, and the difference between this game and the game vs. OKC) “Having Pat Bev back.  Him bringing that defensive energy as a point guard, and everybody was following behind it, that's the type of effort that we need from each and every guy every single night in order to be successful.”

(On the difference between the second half and the game vs. OKC) “We just held our composure, held our composure.  They got a couple of calls and we just tried to play through it.  We couldn't worry about what they were doing or anything. We had to figure out a way to fight through it and play harder, push the tempo a little harder and play defense.  We did a good job with that.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the Rockets withstanding Portland's second half run) “We just stayed together.  They (Blazers) made a run in the third quarter and instead of us complaining, we went back to the bench and talked about what we needed to do, and we got a good win against a very, very good team.”

(On the play of Pat Beverley) “I think his performance tonight was amazing.  He did an excellent job on Lillard.  He made him take tough shots every time down.  He pressured him the whole game, and that's what we need.  I am happy he is back, and I am happy he is getting healthy.”

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS COACH TERRY STOTTS

(On the game) “Houston got off to great start. When they score eighteen points in four minutes that kind of set the tone for the whole game. That part of it was disappointing but it’s one of those games where they’re an explosive team and they made their three’s tonight. Some of that was on us, but I give Houston credit. They did what they do very well. They got to the rim, they got out in transition, they hit their three’s and Dwight was great in the paint. When they’re playing like that, they are a dynamic offensive team.”

(On what the difference was tonight) “They (Houston) only had four offensive rebounds in the first half. They had seventy one points with only four offensive rebounds. When we were making a run in the second half, we had some good defensive possessions that ended up not getting the rebounds. Their offensive rebounds were much more of an effect in the second half. When we were playing some good defense, we just couldn’t come up with the ball.”

(On Pat Beverley’s play) “He really has an impact on the game. He brings a lot of energy and I think his team feeds off his defense. I thought offensively he really did a good job pushing the ball, being aggressive going to the basket, he drew fouls. I think he really compliments what they like to do.”

LaMARCUS ALDRIDGE

(On trying to make a comeback) “We got close and we just couldn’t get over that hump. Our shots didn’t fall for us and they made tough shots and were able to get the win. We definitely didn’t make shots tonight and that was tough. We have to take care of tendencies better. They started off feeling comfortable and just ran with it. We have to make sure the other teams don’t feel that comfortable early.”

(On the Rockets) “They played great. They made shots and we didn’t have good starts in the first half and we weren’t able to get a cushion and they took advantage of it

NICOLAS BATUM

(On his injured finger) “I don’t know yet. They took x-rays. I got my finger stuck into someone, I don’t know who and I felt it crack and it’s the same finger I have had problems with. I did it on the last play before we came out (fourth quarter). I set a screen and I got slapped and it turned. They said (x-ray) that I have a crack on my finger. I need something to protect my finger.”

DAMIAN LILLARD

(On Portland trying to make a comeback) “We let them get a lot of offensive rebounds and we missed a lot of shots we usually make. We didn’t take away the three point shot and even when we did cut the lead down, we just kept coming one loose ball and one rebound away from cracking the game and getting back into it. It seemed like every time we were right there, they turned around and hit a three and get an offensive rebound, and get fouled. It’s one of those games.”

(On what was the halftime message) “We just wanted to pick up our energy. They were beating us to all the loose balls and they were playing free and easy and getting whatever they wanted. In the second half, we came out with more energy than we had in the first half, but I just think they had it tonight. They had a bounce in their step, they made three’s, they moved the ball well and we missed a lot of shots we usually make. It was a high scoring game and it was just their night.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,135 tonight, giving the Rockets 22 sellouts on the season.

The Rockets set their season high in points in a 126-113 win over the Trail Blazers tonight. Houston finished 45-of-86 (.523) from the floor, as well as going 16-of-33 (.485) from downtown and 20-of-24 (.833) from the free throw line. The Rockets are now 13-3 in games when they shoot .500 or better from the field.

The Rockets recorded another 71 points in the first half tonight, going 28-of-42 (.667) from the field and hitting 10-of-13 (.769) from 3-point range. It marks just the second time this season Houston has scored 60 or more points in three consecutive first halves: 73 vs. Oklahoma City (1/16/14) and 62 vs. Milwaukee (1/18/14). Overall, Houston has combined for 206 first-half points over the last three games (68.7 ppg), topping their previous three-game best of 199 combined first-half points (63 on 11/16/13, 68 on 11/19/13 and 68 on 11/20/13) this season.

Houston outrebounded the Blazers by +15 (52-37) tonight. The Rockets also took the battle of the boards by +17 (47-30) in a win earlier this season at Portland (11/5/13).

The Rockets have now set new season highs in second-chance points in consecutive games. Houston set a season best in second-chance scoring with a 23-18 edge tonight. The Rockets had outscored the Bucks by 22-9 on second-chance points vs. Milwaukee (1/18/14) to set Houston’s previous high.

Chandler Parsons led the Rockets with a season-high 31 points (12-19 FG, 3-5 3FG, 4-4 FT) tonight, adding 10 rebounds, a team-high seven assists and two blocks. Parsons, who had a career-best 22 20-point outings in 2012-13, has already reached 20-plus points on 13 occasions this season. He also picked up his fifth double-double of the season.

Dwight Howard posted 24 points (9-15 FG, 6-9 FT) and 12 rebounds tonight, marking his 13th 20-point, 10-rebound game of the season.

James Harden registered 22 points (7-15 FG, 4-9 3FG), six rebounds and five assists tonight. It was the 10th time this season Harden has reached at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in a game (Rockets record: 7-3).

Patrick Beverley returned to the lineup tonight after missing the last 14 games (12/23/13-1/18/14) following surgery on Dec. 23 to repair a fracture in his right hand. Beverley collected 17 points (5-11 FG, 3-8 3FG) and three assists.

Omri Casspi came off the bench with 15 points (5-9 FG) and eight boards, while going 3-of-5 from beyond the arc to match his season high in 3-pointers made.

Donatas Motiejunas made his first start of the season, replacing an injured Terrence Jones (deep left thigh bruise). Motiejunas pulled down a career-high nine rebounds to go with nine points (4-8 FG).

LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 27 points (11-26 FG) and 20 rebounds tonight. Aldridge, who scored 31 points (12-22 FG) and grabbed 25 rebounds at Portland (12/12/13), now stands as the only Houston opponent over the last 25 seasons to post two 20-20 games against the Rockets in the same season.

Damian Lillard totaled 24 points (7-17 FG, 7-8 FT) and five assists tonight. The Blazers now own a record of 24-6 this season when Lillard dishes out five or more assists in a game, with two of those losses coming at the hands of the Rockets

PREVIEW

The Basics:

Portland Trail Blazers (31-9) at Houston Rockets (27-15)

Point Differential:

Portland: +6.7 (NBA rank: 4th)

Houston: +3.3 (NBA rank: 9th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Portland: 110.6 (1st)

Houston: 107.1 (4th)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Portland: 104.8 (20th)

Houston: 102.2 (10th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Portland: 97.86 (10th)

Houston: 98.12 (8th)

Four Factors:

Shooting – Effective field goal percentage (eFG% is a field goal percentage that’s adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot):

Portland: 51.5% (6th)

Houston: 52.8% (3rd)

Turnovers – Turnover ratio (the number of turnovers a team averages per 100 possessions):

Portland: 14.0 (4th)

Houston: 16.6 (27th)

Rebounding – Rebound percentage (the percentage of total rebounds obtained)

Portland: 52.4% (3rd); offensive rebound rate: 29.3% (2nd); defensive rebound rate: 75.1% (13th)

Houston: 51.5% (7th); offensive rebound rate: 26.7% (T-11th); defensive rebound rate: 73.2% (24th)

Free Throws – Free throw rate (the rate at which a team goes to the line relative to the number of field goals it attempts):

Portland: .253 (26th)

Houston: .403 (1st)

We’ll begin by stating the obvious: This Portland team is pretty darn good. Their offense is out of this world, their two studs are playing like All-Stars, their role players have been remarkable and Terry Stotts belongs on the Coach of the Year shortlist.

Now all that having been said, the Blazers have received their fair share of good fortune as well, just as any successful franchise must. First and foremost, Portland’s starters have missed a grand total of ZERO games due to injury this year. The Blazers have also played the second-easiest schedule (based on average winning percentage of opponents played) of any Western Conference team to date. Full credit to them for making the most of their circumstances, just know that one of those things (the strength of schedule) has already begun to shift while the other (impeccable health) rarely lasts for an entire season.

Again, none of this is meant to let the air out of the Blazers’ balloon. Portland is a terrific team and it’s repeatedly proven as much, most recently with impressive road wins over San Antonio and Dallas. But while the Blazers sit five full games above the Rockets in the Western Conference standings, the gap between the two clubs might not be as wide as it seems. Houston has had very little luck with injuries, of course, having had its starters miss 28 games due to myriad injury issues thus far, and that’s to say nothing of the 35 combined games missed by key bench contributors Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. And while Portland’s point differential more than doubles that of the Rockets’, when pace of play is entered into the equation the difference between the two teams shrinks considerably as seen by the fact that the Blazers’ net rating is +5.8 while Houston’s is +5.0.

The “you are what your record says you are!” crowd may howl at the latter part of the preceding paragraph, and that's perfectly fine. The point isn’t that Houston and Portland are equals at this point of the 2013-14 campaign; it’s that with a little more luck – and a similarly enterprising spirit – the Rockets may very well reach Portland’s lofty peak in the season’s second half. Their trek up that mountain continues tonight.

Know Thy Enemy

- It’s no secret that two of Houston’s biggest bugaboos this season have been its propensity to concede easy scoring opportunities via live-ball turnovers and a failure to secure defensive rebounds. To that end, it’s relevant to note that Portland ranks last in pace-adjusted points off turnovers, but leads the league in pace-adjusted second chance scoring. The Blazers’ offense is obviously plenty potent enough as it is so keeping them off the offensive glass will be a huge priority for Houston tonight. The Rockets excelled in that area during the two teams’ first meeting, as Houston outscored the Blazers 18-5 in second chance points. Portland got the better of them the next time, however, owning a 17-15 edge in second chance scoring during the Blazers’ 111-104 win on December 12.

- When searching for key differences between the two games the Rockets and Blazers have played against each other this season, the first thing that leaps out is, of course, LaMarcus Aldridge’s superhuman 31-point, 25-rebound performance during Portland’s win last month. Aldridge was rendered far more mortal back in November when Houston won 116-101 during a game in which he totaled 21 points and a mere five boards on 9-of-19 shooting from the floor.

But don’t overlook the massive role played by Robin Lopez, either. In Portland’s loss, foul trouble plagued him all night, limiting him to fewer than 18 minutes of playing time during which he went scoreless while collecting just six rebounds. One month later, his presence was impossible to miss as he managed to stay on the floor for 37 significantly impactful minutes, racking up 16 points and 10 boards during that time.

To be sure, Aldridge is Portland’s most important player – the Blazers are 10.3 points per 100 possessions better than their opposition when he plays and 8.4 points per 100 possessions worse than their opponents when he sits, both of which represent team highs – but given the club’s dearth of rim protection outside of Lopez, their starting center’s presence is nearly as vital, especially against a team that pounds the paint as much as the Rockets do.

- That last point segues nicely into what looms as Houston’s largest advantage heading into tonight’s contest. On a pace-adjusted basis, only the Lakers and Jazz allow more paint points per game than does Portland. The Rockets, meanwhile, are second in the NBA in pace-adjusted paint scoring. So it should come as no surprise, then, to see that Houston owned a 54-28 edge in paint points during their first meeting with Portland and then followed that up by outscoring the Blazers 66-36 in the paint in December.

Related: Dwight Howard is averaging 30.5 points and 15 rebounds per game to go along with 69 percent shooting against Portland this season. James Harden has found plenty of room for his forays to the basket as well which is why his per game averages against the Blazers this year are nearly as robust as those of his All-Star teammate’s. Harden’s numbers versus Portland through two games: 29 points per contest built upon 53 percent shooting from the field.

- No team in the NBA scores a greater percentage of its points from the 3-point line than does Portland. A whopping 28 percent of the Blazers’ points come from beyond the arc, befitting a team that is second in the league in 3-point percentage (39.7 percent) behind only San Antonio. That said, Portland has yet to climb above the 33 percent plateau in either of its games against Houston this year; all told the Blazers have hit just 31 percent (18-of-58) of their attempts from distance against this Rockets this season.

On the other end of the floor, meanwhile, Portland is just as obsessed with the trey. The Blazers concede the fewest triples – and the fewest number of corner 3s – per contest of any team in the league.

By the way, the Rockets are actually No. 1 in the NBA in percentage of field goal attempts that come from 3-point range, but rank just 24th in 3-point accuracy (34.2 percent).

- More shot location fun: Portland is tied for third in terms of the percentage of its points that come from mid-range (22.4 percent), primarily because Aldridge earns his living in that area. The Blazers’ All-Star power forward leads the league by a mile in mid-range shots attempted – on average, 13.6 of his 20.9 field goal attempts per game come from mid-range. Not coincidentally, his hit-rate from that area (43.9 percent) closely mirrors that of his team’s (42.8 percent).

- Thanks to their extraordinary good health, Portland’s starting five has played more minutes together (805) than any other quintet in the league except for the Timberwolves’ opening unit. The Blazers’ combo of Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, Lopez, Aldridge and Nicolas Batum has been awesome, too: their net rating of +11.4 is better than that of any other high-usage (250 minutes or more) group except for Golden State’s and Indiana’s dominant starting lineups. (Note: Houston’s fivesome of Beverley, Harden, Parsons, Jones and Howard would be smack dab in the middle of this conversation, too, if the Rockets could ever get them back on the floor at the same time; in 245 minutes, that lineup’s net rating is a sparkling +12.7).

- Both of these clubs lean heavily on their starters: Only Golden State’s reserves score fewer points per contest than do Portland’s (23.9 points per game). The Rockets’ bench, meanwhile, contributes 26.3 points per game – a mark that is 24th in the league, according to HoopStats.com.

In the spotlight

Plenty of eyes will be on Patrick Beverley, who makes his return tonight after missing a month due to a fractured right hand. His tenacity and in-your-face defense figure to loom large as well, seeing how he helped limit Lillard to one of his worst games of the season the last time these two went head-to-head, as Portland’s point guard scored just eight points on 1-of-10 shooting from the field.

But here’s something else to keep an eye on: The Blazers have been the league’s second-best team in the second half of games this season, outscoring their opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions during that time. They’ve been especially lethal in the third quarter, when their net rating soars to +15.9.

Houston, on the other hand, has done the majority of its damage during the early going. The Rockets are tied with Oklahoma City for the league’s second-best net rating (+9.0) in the first half of games, behind only San Antonio. By and large, Houston has been rock solid in every quarter but the last; the only period in which the Rockets have posted a negative net rating is the fourth, during which they’ve been 3.5 points per 100 possessions worse than their opposition.

For what it’s worth, the team that owned the second half emerged victorious in the first two meetings between these two clubs. Houston outscored Portland by 10 over the final two periods back in November, while the Blazers rode a 35-28 fourth quarter – and an 8-point overall second half edge – to victory a month later.

Injury Update

Terrence Jones (thigh) will be a game-time decision. Francisco Garcia (knee tendinitis), Greg Smith (knee) and Omer Asik (knee) are out.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com except where otherwise noted.