The Best of the Day preview muscles into the paint with NBA tips for a crunch clash between Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets. 

NBA Tips – Portland Trail Blazers V Houston Rockets

11:00 (AEST) @ ESPN Wide World of Sports Arena

History: Played 219: Rockets 123 V Trail Blazers 96

Last meeting: January 29, 2020: Trail Blazers 125 d Rockets 112 at Moda Center

Final thoughts: The Best of the Day preview unpicks a Western Conference showdown as the NBA’s restart gathers steam.

Houston Rockets are climbing up the Western Conference standings after winning their first two games in Orlando, while Portland Trail Blazers are staying the mix for the play-in tournament.

The 30-38, ninth-placed Trail Blazers got back underway with a vital overtime win over the eighth-placed Grizzlies. CJ McCollum top-scored with 33 points, while back-court companion Damian Lillard starred with 29 points and 9 assists.

But an admirable second-half fight-back wasn’t enough in a 128-124 follow-up lost to the Celtics. Lillard (30 pts, 16 ast) and Jusuf Nurkic (30 pts, 9 reb, 5 ast) gave Blazers fans plenty of reason for optimism, however.

The 42-24 Rockets – now fourth in the West – also kicked off with an overtime thriller. James Harden (49 pts, 9 reb, 8 ast) and Russell Westbrook (31 pts, 11 reb, 8 ast) showed few signs of rust in a 153-149 defeat of the Mavericks.

Both superstars were in fine touch again as the Rockets upset the East-leading Bucks 120-116 on Monday (AEST). The Rockets’ defensive strength as the game wore on was a feature against Giannis Antetokoumpo-led Milwaukee.

Blazers ahead in season series

The Blazers have won four of their last six against the Rockets, including two of three this season.

James Harden top-scored with 36 points, Russell Westbrook went off for a triple-double and the since-departed Clint Capela pulled down 20 rebounds as well as posting 22 points in a 132-108 Houston home win in December.

But Hassan Whiteside (18 pts, 18 reb) and Carmelo Anthony (18 pts, 12 reb) led Portland to a 117-107 road win in January, and Damian Lillard (36 pts, 10 reb, 11 ast) stole the show in a 125-112 victory back in Portland two weeks later.

Neither side has been great against the start in the 2019-20 season. The Rockets are 31-35 ATS (21st in the NBA); the Blazers are 28-37-3 (27th).

The Blazers have been promising since the restart and can’t afford to lose many games to force a play-in tournament. But the Rockets sounded an ominous warning to the rest of the NBA by subduing the Bucks and should make it three straight here with a Best of the Day victory.

Tip: Handicap – Houston Rockets -4.5 @ $1.90