Back in 2005 when Nate McMillan became the coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, he instituted a ban on headbands, rationalizing that the team needed to earn the decorations via good play before they could don them. Current Blazers coach Terry Stotts may want to bar his charges from bringing their hats, lunches, or donkeys to the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, because the Rockets handed all three to Portland tonight. Without LaMarcus Aldridge (suffering from an upper respiratory infection) the Blazers fell behind 73-53 at the half and never recovered, eventually losing 110-95.
The story of this game was pretty simple. Portland's offense never clicked without Aldridge manning his usual left-block post position. The Blazers made a go of it, trying to score via layups and threes. The approach was smart, the execution less so. Unfamiliar lineups (Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland started the game) led to players out of position, errant passes, and general confusion. The result was 10 Houston steals by halftime, 22 Blazers turnovers at the final horn. The Rockets picked off passes, ripped away dribbles, then ran for layups.
The Blazers spent the evening playing Stan Van Gundy defense: waving followed by confusion. Dwight Howard shot 7-11 for 16 points but he could have had a million. And that means James Harden could have had a billion. Houston's All-Star guard scored 31 points in the first half and 44 overall. The Blazers couldn't stay in front of either star, couldn't recover after sending help against them, and generally bit the big banana at the defensive end until both teams sent in the third unit players.
Portland got 2 more blocked shots and 2 more fast break points than Houston did. Every other statistical category went the way of the Rockets. You know it's a bad night when the Blazers get only 5 offensive rebounds total. That wasn't even the worst of it tonight.
You really can't learn much from a game like this. Shorthanded blowouts don't happen too often and aren't anything to worry about. Two themes stand out, and not much more.
1. If you didn't know how important Aldridge is to this team, you do now. Here's a list of all the things that went to hell when he couldn't play: offense, defense, rebounding. What's left? Transition scoring, three-pointers, and nice-looking uniforms. The Blazers had all those tonight. For the rest, they kind of need LaMarcus.
2. This game also demonstrated how much of a continuity, system-based team the Blazers are now. Damian Lillard hit some great shots. Wesley Matthews made some decent post moves. It was like baking a cake without a pan. The ingredients may have been good, but they wouldn't stand up. Then ended up getting burned on the oven floor. The whole isn't just more than the sum of the parts for the Blazers, the whole is the sum of its parts cubed...at least.
One example: Steve Blake has been a fine addition for the Blazers this year. His defense, passing, and sense of timing have all helped the team. Tonight that same Steve Blake looked horrible in the first half...passing to players who weren't there, getting his pocket picked, forcing plays that didn't exist. He looked more like a rookie than an 11-year vet. That isn't because Blake suddenly turned terrible. It's because the infrastructure around him couldn't support his contributions, leaving him to play in a style he couldn't execute.
The Portland Trail Blazers make each other so much better so often (and seemingly so effortlessly) that you forget it's happening. Nights like this give you a reminder of what not playing that way looks like. The difference is night and day.
CJ McCollum had a nice night off the bench, shooting 6-9, 2-3 from distance for 17 points, 3 assists, and 3 steals. Meyers Leonard hit 3 three-pointers. Those were the bright spots.
Other than that the best things to do are hope Aldridge gets better in time for tomorrow night's game in Oklahoma City and forget this game as soon as possible.
Our Instant Recap will give you an idea of game flow and post-game reaction.
The Dream Shake will do a victory dance because the Rockets are 1-0 against the Blazers in the new season.
Since it's the season of giving, don't forget to help underprivileged youth, children, and chaperons see Portland's March 30th game against the Phoenix Suns by contributing tickets to Blazer's Edge Night. The cost of a ticket is low and the joy it brings into the life of a child who otherwise wouldn't get to see a game is immeasurable. We're looking to send over 1000 kids this year. You can find all the details here. Please help with a ticket or two (or 10!) if you can.