Houston Rockets vs Portland Trail Blazers game preview - December 17

Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers
Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers / Alika Jenner/GettyImages
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Houston Rockets vs Portland Trail Blazers: X-Factor

The Rockets’ X-factor against the Portland Trail Blazers is Alperen Sengun. A big game from Sengun on offense and defense could very well be the difference in the contest. As noted earlier, the Blazers allow their opponents to get to the rim, and Sengun is the Rocket who takes the most shots in the paint. 

42.6% of Sengun’s shots come zero to three feet from the rim, and he converts those shots at a 66.1% rate. While his efficiency isn’t sublime, that level of volume gives him an excellent offensive base to build around and helps him rack up offensive rebounds. In reality, Sengun scores at a higher efficiency around the rim than his field goal percentage suggests because of his ability to grab second-chance opportunities. 

On paper, the Blazers are the perfect matchup for Sengun, but in practice, it has been a mixed bag. Sengun scored a career-high 27 points against the Blazers last season but has also had two 4-point games. In their earlier matchup this season, Sengun scored 14 points on 50% shooting with 11 rebounds. The Rockets need Sengun to be closer to 27 points than 14 points to fully take advantage of the Blazers’ most glaring defensive deficiency. 

On defense, the Blazers are an incredibly tough matchup for Sengun. Their two primary ball handlers, Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons, are dangerous off-the-dribble shooters, which makes Sengun’s preferred drop coverage in the pick and roll a dangerous gamble. Sengun will need to show on screens and could be forced to defend on the perimeter. He doesn’t need to be a lockdown defender, but he needs to force Lillard and Simons into uncomfortable situations. 

If Alperen Sengun can have a big night on offense and hold his own on defense, the Rockets should have a chance. He’s the best player on the Rockets to exploit the Blazers’ defensive weakness, and he’s the Rockets’ biggest defensive weakness against the Blazers. 

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