The Portland Trail Blazers tried to stay close to the Houston Rockets all night, but just couldn't reach them, eventually falling short in a frustrating game. You know those games where the Blazers can't catch a break? That was this game. You know that game where the Blazers keep missing free throws? That was this game. You know that game where the important fouls mysteriously go against the Blazers, especially in key situations? That was this game. It was a rough night all around, as Dwight Howard and James Harden used their advantages to keep the Blazers off balance.
The Blazers were led by LaMarcus Aldridge (21 points, 5 rebounds), Wesley Matthews (19 points), Damian Lillard (22 points, 5 assists) and Nicolas Batum (13 points, 4 assists, 3 steals). Robin Lopez was saddled with (often ticky-tack) fouls all night, leading to no points and 6 rebounds. In Joel Freeland's absence, Meyers Leonard was also saddled with fouls, leading to a tough night in the middle.
First Quarter: The three-pointers kept falling, as Matthews, Batum and Lillard each scored from downtown to give the Blazers an early 9 point lead. Meanwhile, the Rockets found an unexpected defensive monster: Lopez, who seemed to block everyone who came into the lane. Houston simply didn't look like a well-oiled machine yet at either end, But that didn't stop them from slowly mounting a comeback, using steals to create easy buckets and free throws. A Harden three-pointer gave them the lead, part of a monster run that gave them a 6 point lead. But just like that, the game turned again, and the Blazers went on an 8-1 run in the last two minutes to end a crazy first quarter in the lead.
Portland 31, Houston 30
Fear the beard? PFFFT. Fear the Weird!
Robin Lopez has looked very solid this game so far!
Second Quarter: The game of runs continued, as the Blazers jumped back into the lead, but Houston returned the favor with another big run, this time an 11-0 run mostly against the bench. Portland tied the game with yet another run, only for Houston to do the same. One problem though: By trying to guard foul-magnet Dwight Howard, both Lopez nad Meyers Leonard had three fouls. Meanwhile, Portland's shot selection (and ball management) fell apart against Houston's mediocre defense. They should have felt pretty lucky to stay close at halftime.
Houston 55, Portland 50
Bad stretch and still within 5.
And we can heat up better than a Microwave.
Third Quarter: Within one minute, Lopez picked up a very ticky-tack fourth foul, sending him right back to the bench. And the Blazer offense continued to struggle, as even easy layups were rimming out. Blazers Coach Terry Stotts called timeout three minutes into the quarter, as the disastrous offense still hadn't scored, and Houston had taken a double-digit lead despite multiple dumb turnovers. With Leonard anchoring the middle, rebounding was a struggle, and Houston worked harder on defense one day after giving up 137 points. The Blazers finally scored with 7:45 left, down by 15 points. They immediately gave up a wide open dunk to Howard at the other end. Soon the Houston lead was 18. Even Howard was making his foul shots. The Blazers finally found a groove, making a run to cut the lead to single digits... but in an awful stretch, Dorell Wright missed a fast break layup, leading to Lopez' fifth foul at the other end. He headed back to the bench as the quarter wound down.
Houston 84, Portland 73
I wouldn't have said this last year, but I wish Freeland was in the game.
Fourth Quarter: Houston quickly tried to pull away, but Portland did just enough to stay within shouting distance, as a Matthews three cut the deficit to 7, then Mo Williams cut it to 5. But just a minute later, the Rockets led by 11 again. Every time the Blazers did something good, the Rockets would hit a big shot, often accompanied by a foul. The Blazers didn't have the firepower to keep up, and every time a chance arose, it felt like a call would go against the Blazers, like a late foul call on a pass-off. As the game wound down, the Blazers started gunning from three, hoping to bridge the gap quickly. But Harden hit a big three, followed by a Beverley fast-break down, preventing any miracle Blazer comeback.
Since it's a home game, stay tuned for both Dave's extended anlysis, and Ben's Media Row report. This is the lone game in a strange week-long stretch for the Blazers, who don't play again until Friday night, at home against Sacramento. -- Tim