West powers clash as Rockets visit Blazers

( - Two of the Western Conference's best teams square off Wednesday night when the Houston Rockets visit the Moda Center to meet the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Rockets are third in the Western Conference, a full game ahead of the Blazers.

Houston has won two straight, including the first of a four-game road trip Monday night in Denver. The Rockets came out on top, 114-100.

James Harden continued his MVP push with 24 points and seven assists versus the Nuggets. Corey Brewer posted 24 points and six rebounds for the Rockets, who have won seven of their last nine games.

"He changed the game for us. We were kind of stagnant, we were down, he got a couple of steals. Brew did what Brew does and that's why we won the game," Harden said of Brewer.

Trevor Ariza recorded a three-point play and knocked down a 3-pointer during a second-quarter surge, which was capped on a Harden layup and two free throws on consecutive trips down the floor for a 47-36 Rockets advantage at the 4:41 mark of the frame.

Houston took a 55-48 margin into the locker room and an 88-73 spread into the fourth, where it built its advantage to as much as 21.

The Rockets will visit the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers on this trip.

The Trail Blazers had a five-game winning streak halted in a 121-113 road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday.

Portland found its first game without Wesley Matthews to be a tough task. They received 32 points from Damian Lillard and 21 from fellow star LaMarcus Aldridge, went 14-of-27 from 3-point range, but had trouble getting stops all evening long.

Matthews, third on the Blazers in scoring with a 15.9 points per game average, suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in Thursday's win over Dallas. Arron Afflalo finished with 14 points starting in Matthews' place.

Nicolas Batum scored 17 with seven rebounds. The Portland bench scored 22 points and Aldridge, Lillard and Batum all played close to 38 minutes.

The Timberwolves used their sharp shooting to pull away over the final six minutes after Portland closed within 94-93 on a Dorell Wright 3-pointer. Gary Neal buried back-to-back jumpers to ignite a 6-0 run, and Minnesota later hit four straight shots down the stretch during an 11-5 sequence that had them up by nine with under a minute left.

"We didn't do the job defensively that we needed to do, first half and second half," said Portland coach Terry Stotts.

The teams have split two meetings this season, both in Houston. The Blazers dispatched the Rockets in six games in the first round of last season's playoffs and are 3-1 in the last four matchups in Portland.