Improved Rockets look to regain winning form vs. Blazers

Surprising and sudden defensive prowess had fueled the Houston Rockets through a five-game homecourt winning streak, highlighted by consecutive victories over the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns earlier in the week.

Against the Miami Heat on Thursday, the Rockets proved unable to maintain that defensive momentum, falling 111-108 in the third game of a seven-game homestand that continues on Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Central to the Rockets’ struggles against the Heat was on-ball defense, namely against Tyler Herro and Jimmy Butler.

Herro poured in a career-high 41 points while sinking 10 3-pointers, also a career best. He torched several defenders in his wake. Butler finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and he added seven assists by routinely finding teammates in the corners after beating his defender off the dribble.

“Definitely not as good as the previous game,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said of the on-ball defense.

Houston will face a similar challenge against Portland and its guard tandem of Damian Lillard — who will enter the game 46 points shy of surpassing Hall of Fame guard Clyde Drexler atop the franchise career scoring list — and Anfernee Simons.

However, what should embolden Houston is the manner in which it competed against Miami down the stretch despite the sharpshooting of Herro and the all-around brilliance displayed by Butler, who also chipped in four steals.

Recent success seems to have bolstered the Rockets’ confidence, something that is apparent not only by the results but in how the Rockets go about playing no matter the deficit they have faced.

“I do. I do,” Silas said of seeing a growth in confidence. “Earlier in the season, we weren’t really sure. Now we’re kind of figuring it out where we are more confident, definitely a more confident team. Winning helps that, but playing the way that we did in the second half helps that as well.”

The Trail Blazers had won five of six prior to absorbing a 130-110 beating at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks on Friday. Lillard scored 24 points but logged just 24 minutes as Portland trailed by 25 points entering the fourth quarter.

In the previous five games following his return from a prolonged injury absence, Lillard averaged 34.4 points on 52.9 percent shooting and 7.4 assists.

After Portland surrendered 79 points over the middle two periods in Dallas, Lillard didn’t get the chance to continue his torrid scoring stretch.

Not only will the Trail Blazers cap a back-to-back in Houston on Saturday, but they are also in the midst of a six-game, 10-day road trip. Including consecutive wins over the Minnesota Timberwolves prior to the trip, Portland will have played eight games in 14 days when they conclude their travels in Denver on Dec. 23.

Taking the arduous schedule and the late-game deficit into consideration, Portland coach Chauncey Billups was judicious in how he approached the final period against the Mavericks.

“You never feel good about these, but there are some games during the year … (where) it’s just not going to happen,” Billups said. “You’re going to have three or four of these types of nights, every team has it. We didn’t have it, and we’ll talk about obviously why I felt like we didn’t have it in our team meeting, but we have a game (Saturday), and I wanted to be smart about (it).

“We’re in a tough little stretch. You’ve got to know when to fold them sometimes.”

–Field Level Media