Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers Pick & Prediction JANUARY 24th 2024

For lengthy stretches against the Boston Celtics on Sunday, the Houston Rockets appeared to simply not have enough — a legitimate deduction considering the injury attrition of their rotation.

Despite missing four key cogs, including starters Fred VanVleet and Jabari Smith Jr., the Rockets shaved a 17-point deficit to three points in the fourth quarter before ultimately succumbing to the Celtics 116-107 in the second game of a back-to-back.

It was the sixth loss in eight games for the Rockets, who will host the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday in the finale of a three-game homestand. Houston will get a boost with the return of three players who sat out against Boston: VanVleet, Smith and veteran Jeff Green.

Without VanVleet, whose 8.5 assists per game rank fifth in the NBA, the Rockets had the makings of being a rudderless ship against Boston. Instead, Houston utilized a collective approach to orchestrating the offense, with Alperen Sengun posting 10 assists as part of a triple-double while Jalen Green, Aaron Holiday and Amen Thompson tallied five assists each.

Thompson enjoyed a breakout in his first career start, producing his second double-double while posting career bests in points (15) and rebounds (14) while logging a career-high 32 minutes.

It marked a dramatic step forward for Thompson, a rookie whose defensive chops are far ahead of his offensive skills at this early stage. The Rockets have labored to put Thompson in position to thrive; when a golden opportunity presented itself on Sunday, he did not disappoint.

“His development is going to be over time,” VanVleet said. “I know we want all these guys to be ready right away, but you can see him get more comfortable being able to read defenses, being able to organize. He’s using his voice a lot more, which we’ve been talking about at the point guard spot. Just organizing and getting guys in the right spot.”

The Trail Blazers’ 111-109 road loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday was in small part a microcosm of their wayward season.

Twelve days after suffering a 62-point blowout defeat to the Thunder, the Trail Blazers went blow for blow down the stretch against Oklahoma City, with the lead changing hands 14 times in the fourth quarter. Portland appeared to seize the upper hand when Anfernee Simons drilled a 3-pointer with 29.9 seconds left that secured a 109-106 lead. But a dramatic collapse followed.

Thunder forward Jalen Williams hit a pull-up jumper that sliced the deficit to one and the Trail Blazers responded with a turnover, with Malcolm Brogdon whistled for a double-dribble while attempting to call a timeout. Portland coach Chauncey Billups was also calling a timeout before the turnover and, when his pleas went unheard, he earned two technical fouls and an ejection.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tied the game with a free throw, Williams added another jumper that flipped the lead, and Gilgeous-Alexander sealed the victory with a steal of the Trail Blazers’ inbounds pass. Instead of a redemptive win, Portland lost for the sixth time in eight games.

“My guys played amazing,” Billups said. “They took the challenge. We’ve been saying all day that we need to go demand some respect based on the way that we’ve played against this team. Either you’re going to roll or get rolled on. That’s how this game works.

“We made them earn everything, and I was proud of my team. They didn’t deserve for the game to end like that.”

–Field Level Media

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