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Predicting this week’s Western Conference showdowns for the Rockets

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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With the Houston Rockets in the midst of a long streak of Western Conference battles, we predict how they’ll fare in their three games this week.

After two days of rest, the Houston Rockets will resume their long stretch of showdowns against Western Conference foes on Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies. It will be the third out of 13 straight games against opponents from the West, which will include matchups against the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks and a grudge match against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

So far Houston is 1-1 on the conference tour, losing a tough game against the Thunder before dominating the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday. Due to a nine-game winning streak by the Utah Jazz, the Rockets now find themselves at fourth in the West, just a half-game behind them and Denver for second place.

With James Harden continuing to dominate and Russell Westbrook now on a 14-game streak of scoring 20 or more points, Houston may finally be primed to skyrocket up the standings with upcoming games against the top three seeds on the horizon. One of those matchups will be with the top-seeded Lakers, which will be a good opportunity to gain a full game on LeBron James and crew.

After going 3-0 in predictions last week, let’s see if we can keep it rolling, starting with a faceoff against the gritty Grizzlies.

Houston Rockets @ Memphis Grizzlies – Jan. 14, 8 p.m. ET

While the Memphis Grizzlies have had a reputation for hard-nosed defense for what seems like decades, that hasn’t been the case this season. Memphis is allowing 116.4 points per game, which is just 27th in the league, while demonstrating a defensive rating that’s 23rd.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to be wary of Ja Morant and the Grizzlies as Mike D’Antoni‘s club visits FedEx Forum. Going into the game, Memphis has won four straight at home and their last five overall. Jaren Jackson Jr. is enjoying a remarkable sophomore season, averaging 18 points per game along with five rebounds.

Rookie sensation Ja Morant is also averaging 18 points per game to tie for the team’s leading scorer while also dishing out 6.8 assists per game. Morant put up 23 to go along with six assists and five rebounds the last time the Rockets and Grizzlies met in early November. Behind 44 points, 10 rebounds and six assists from Harden, Houston was able to come away with a hard-fought 107-100 victory on that night.

While Memphis has been on fire as of late, I expect Houston to squeeze out another victory over them to start the week.

169. 108. 211. 117

Portland Trail Blazers @ Houston Rockets – Jan. 15, 9:30 p.m. ET

One of the biggest mysteries in the NBA this season has been why the Portland Trail Blazers have fallen so far. The last time I checked, they still have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who we rightfully ranked as the second-best backcourt in the league going into this season. As we all know, that’s the same backcourt that led Portland to a surprising Western Conference Finals appearance last year.

Related Story. Ranking top 10 NBA backcourts: Rockets duo lands

Still, the Blazers are just 16-24 going into Monday after losing two straight and eight out of their last 10. Portland is dead-last in the league in assists and 29th in total rebounds allowed. They’re also 23rd in the NBA in points allowed per game at 113.9 and 22nd in defensive rating.

Their lack of defense showed in the first meeting with Houston, as they allowed 132 points that included 36 from Harden and 28 from Westbrook in a 132-108 loss. In the matchup, the Rockets shot 47 percent from the field and outrebounded Portland by 10.

It’s not known which game of the back-to-back Westbrook will sit out this week, but either way, back-to-backs have not been friendly to the Rockets so far. Still, the Rockets still have too much firepower for the Trail Blazers, so they should come away with a close victory.

169. 120. 34. 127

Los Angeles Lakers @ Houston Rockets – Jan. 18, 8:30 p.m. ET

In what will be the biggest game for the Houston Rockets this season so far, they will face the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday for the first time this season on ABC. After acquiring Anthony Davis to pair along with LeBron this past offseason, Los Angeles instantly became a favorite to win the NBA title in June, and rightfully so.

Going into Monday, the Lakers are sitting at 32-7 through 39 games, most recently beating the Thunder by 15 despite LeBron and Davis both sitting out. Despite our optimistic idea that the Rockets could catch them by the All-Star break, the Lakers haven’t done Houston any favors, winning their last eight.

A win against the Lakers would certainly make a statement as well as shave a game off their lead in the conference, but I’m not sure Houston is at the level Los Angeles is quite yet. The Rockets are certainly capable of beating any team on any given night, but their consistency hasn’t been there as often as it should be.

This isn’t a surprise though — the Rockets did just add a future Hall-of-Famer to the roster after he spent 11 seasons with another team. Eventually, Houston should be right up there with the Lakers in the West, but I think the Lake Show takes the first matchup.

20. 119. 169. 129

Given Houston’s trouble with back-to-backs, I think a safe bet for this week is a 2-1 record, whether it be a loss earlier in the week or against the Lakers when the weekend comes around.

Next. 8 players the Rockets can add with Nene's contract

The Rockets begin their week in Memphis on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBATV.

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