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News And Notes: December 10, 2013

Lin returns as Rockets get ready for primetime tilt in Portland

HOUSTON - Jeremy Lin was a full participant in today’s practice, taking part in his first full-contact workout since suffering a right knee sprain nearly two weeks ago.

Lin made it through the 75-minute session with no issues and afterward declared himself ready to return when the Rockets take on the Western Conference leading Portland Trailblazers in a primetime showdown Thursday night.

“I feel good, no limitations.” Lin said following Tuesday’s practice session. “I’ll be back (for Thursday’s game).

“I’m full go. (I might need) a little conditioning, or maybe I’m not jumping as high off of that right foot, but I never really jumped that high off the right foot, anyway.”

All jokes aside, the Rockets will certainly be glad to get Lin back in the lineup, especially given the high degree of difficulty awaiting the team on its upcoming west coast road trip. Prior to sustaining the injury to his knee, the 25-year-old point guard was playing at a very high level, averaging more than 15 points and shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc during 30 minutes of playing time per game.

“It’s very important (to get Lin back),” said Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson. “He’s a very important piece of our puzzle; he kind of solidifies our second unit. He plays well with our first unit but he’s also kind of the guy on our second unit who knows what we’re doing and can defend bigger guards and just gives us some toughness at that spot. We’re a lot better team when Jeremy’s out there.”

Elsewhere on the injury front, Chandler Parsons was a partial participant in today’s practice as Houston continues to take a cautious approach with the back spasms that have been a recurring issue for the third-year forward ever since the Rockets’ first trip to Portland more than a month ago. Omer Asik (thigh contusion) and Greg Smith (knee), meanwhile, sat out the entirety of Tuesday’s workout. Sampson confirmed that Asik’s injury will definitely prevent him from playing in Portland.

Lastly, Houston head coach Kevin McHale missed today’s practice to attend to a personal matter.

OFFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT

Given that the Rockets have ranked among the very best offenses in the NBA for the vast majority of the season to date, any tinkering on that end of the floor is likely to be more of the subtle variety – a tweak here, a twist there – rather than anything even remotely resembling a drastic departure from what’s worked exceptionally well for more than a year now. Additional layers are constantly being added here and there, but perhaps the biggest, most important improvements are likely to come from something as simple as time and the additional opportunities for improved on-court chemistry that so often accompany its passage.

“It’s just making sure that we’re moving, whether the ball is moving or our bodies are moving, and actually we are getting better at that,” Sampson says. “James is learning to trust his teammates a little bit better and we’re making unselfish cuts. For example, in a random break, if we’ve got the slot and the corner covered and the ball’s coming down, well somebody’s got to get to the other side of the floor, and for us that’s usually the slot guy.

“We’re reading that better and we’re learning how to play around Dwight. I thought early on we were probably force-feeding him a little too much. Now we’re being a little bit more selective and Dwight is doing a good job of passing. Dwight can get a lot of touches – that doesn’t mean he’s going to shoot it a lot – Dwight’s a very willing passer. So we’re playing through him (better) and then James – James has just been a lot more efficient.”

BLAZERS SCOUTING REPORT

Portland’s red-hot start has rightfully been one of the big early stories of the NBA season. We’ll take a much more in-depth look at some of the reasons for their success in Thursday’s preview, but this afternoon Sampson provided a strong solid point while breaking down several of the Blazers’ key players.

“(Damian) Lillard is an elite, elite point guard,” he said. “(Wes) Matthews is just one of those guys that every coach would love to have on his team because he’s tough, he brings it every night and he’s shooting almost 48 percent from the 3-point line, and he plays with a chip on his shoulder. You’re talking about a kid who was undrafted and every night it’s like, ‘I’m going to show you guys you should have drafted me, and he plays that way.

“And then Aldridge, I don’t get into rating players in terms of who’s the best or what, but it’d be a real short list in terms of who the top 4-men are in this league. You wouldn’t get very far before you get to him.

“He’s going to make a lot of shots from long 2s. You go into the game thinking, well, he’s not going to beat us from those shots, but then you look back at their last five games, which I usually do, and he beats a lot of teams making long 2s. He’s their go-to guy. Last time we played them, Omer Asik was playing and he matched up and did a great job on him. But he (won’t be available due to injury) so it’s going to be a tough matchup for either Dwight (Howard) or Terrence (Jones) - we'll figure out which one will start on him.

“Then (Robin) Lopez, he’s been a guy you don’t hear very much about but he provides them something they haven’t had. When you look at the difference between this year and last year it’s Lopez – he rebounds, he rolls, he creates space by rolling. He’s just a good player.

“It’s their composite 3-point shots from Matthews, (Nic) Batum) and Lillard. There’s a lot of teams that usually have one guy that doesn’t shoot the 3 well or some teams even have two guys. Their starting perimeter – Lillard, Matthews and Batum – they shoot the 3 at a high, high level.”