Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) scores against Washington Wizards center Ian Mahinmi (28) in the first half on December 29 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Photo by Mark Goldman/UPI | License Photo
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The team with the NBA's best record -- the Houston Rockets -- comes calling to Moda Center Tuesday night, and the Portland Trail Blazers mean no disrespect. They're taking nothing for granted.
But the Trail Blazers are, in a phrase popularized in an earlier era of Blazer basketball, "Red Hot 'n Rollin'." Portland (43-26) is riding the wave of a 13-game win streak. The Blazers haven't been on such a tear since December 2007, when Nate McMillan was head coach and second-year pros Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge were the team leaders.
"Really, it's all about us," forward Ed Davis said. "If we play well, we're going to win. We're not really worried about the opponents right now."
The Blazers have won 18 of their last 19 games at Moda Center dating to before Christmas. They are in third place in the Western Conference, two games ahead of Oklahoma City (42-29).
"During this entire run, a lot of the things we've done have been about us," point guard Damian Lillard said. "We're communicating, being on a string defensively, locking into the scouting report, trusting each other on offense and making (opponents) have to work to stop us. Those are things we control. If we do those things well, we've been on the winning end a lot. If we do those things, which I think we will, no matter who we play, we should be able win."
Coach Terry Stotts was asked if the pressure has mounted on his players through an overall win streak that began with a victory over Golden State on Feb. 14. Portland's last loss was 101-82 against Utah at home on Feb. 11, five weeks ago.
"Not in our situation, because of the standings and how close the race is," Stotts said. "If this were in November or December, and (the Blazers were on) a streak? Maybe. But the emphasis on winning games and maintaining our position in the standings is paramount. So it's not that big of a deal right now."
The Rockets (56-14) are on some kind of run, too, having won 22 of their last 23 games. James Harden is the leading candidate for the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award and backcourt mate Chris Paul is playing some of his best ball in recent years.
But coach Mike D'Antoni knows another key has been the defensive play of small forward P.J. Tucker, who has started the last 18 games.
"He's one of the best defenders I've ever seen," D'Antoni told the Houston Chronicle.
Asked if Tucker should make the NBA All-Defensive team, D'Antoni replied, "I don't know why he wouldn't. It doesn't get much better than him."
Tucker would just as soon win an NBA championship as make the All-Defensive team.
"It would be cool, but for years, when I was mentioned as a Defensive Player of the Year (candidate), they said, 'Are you making the playoffs?' " the 32-year-old journeyman said. "We never did. I want to win."
Another key piece is power forward Ryan Anderson, who has played the past two games after missing the previous eight with hip and groin injuries. Anderson scored 14 points in 17 minutes off the bench in Sunday's 129-120 win at Minnesota, sinking 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
"I just need to get my rhythm back," Anderson said. "There is no pain now. I'll get it pretty quick here."