Fresh off a 113-88 drubbing by the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, the Portland Trail Blazers entered the Toyota Center tonight looking to put a hurt on the 6-5 Houston Rockets. Instead they tripped over their own feet, unable to rebound, stop James Harden, or do anything else that could credibly lead to victory. Houston exited the arena with a 126-109 win while Portland returned to the drawing board, scratching their heads over another limp showing in a blowout loss.
The first period featured James Harden isolating Portland’s defense into oblivion. When he wasn’t darting past defenders for easy scores and trips to the foul line he was darting past more defenders and flicking passes to open shooters. The only reprieve from the Harden Express came when he tired of running and pulled up from the three-point arc instead. Considering he hit 2 of 3 triples in the period, this was a mixed blessing. Harden would finish the opening frame with 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. Projected through four periods, he would have been Wilt Chamberlain.
The Blazers, meanwhile, decided to fight fire with marshmallows. Portland guards isolated their way into plenty of layups and dishes for chip shots. They also hit a couple threes. The 29 points they amassed doing so looked impressive until you consider the Rockets scored 41 doing the same thing. Does Al Snow administer a stunner to Stone Cold Steve Austin? No, he does not.
The story got better in the second as Portland forwards came to the rescue, hitting a barrage of three-pointers hit off of guard penetration. Maurice Harkless stroked a pair, Noah Vonleh and Jake Layman one each. More layups from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum helped the Blazers to 33 in the quarter. Houston’s second unit couldn’t match. The Rockets settled for 21 points in the second and the teams went into the half tied at 62.
Any hopes that Portland would carry momentum into the third got crushed early. They melted down in nearly every area of the game. As guard penetration became predictable, Rockets center Clint Capela shut down the middle and Portland’s paint points dropped by half. Absolved of having to help in the lane, Houston covered the arc better and Portland’s three-pointers started to miss too.
The Blazers offered no resistance on the other end either. When help defense came, it was late. The Rockets feasted on easy inside passes or uncontested offensive rebounds against an imbalanced floor. Don’t even ask what happened when help defense didn’t come.
Houston took the third quarter 38-21, leaving them with 100 points in just three periods. The fourth quarter offered no meaningful variation and the Blazers swallowed the humbling 17-point loss.
Dame D.O.L.L.A. took the stage tonight but whatever groove he mustered got drown out by arch-nemesis E.Z. Buckets. James Harden’s 26 points hurt—especially when added to 14 assists and 12 rebounds—but those were just flesh wounds. The Blazers gave up 56 points in the paint and 25 points on the break. Those were the real killers.
Portland’s defense was gruesome. There’s no other way to put it. Their point-of-attack “D” was non-existent. If you want to simulate their help defense find a man drowning in a lake, stand there and smile at him for 15 minutes, then throw him a bowling ball.
To top it off, the Blazers rebounded with all the integrity of a soggy eggplant. Houston grabbed 17 offensive rebounds to 10 for Portland. The Rockets won the overall rebounding battle 54-41 even though both teams missed the exact same number of shots.
When the Houston out-shot the Blazers at the three-point arc too (14-32 vs. 10-28), the last chance of a wildcard victory went down the drain. Not that the chance was strong to begin with.
Portland played like the bounce-back win was their birthright tonight. Instead they got bounced. No beer and no TV may make Homer go crazy, but no defense and no rebounding must be making Head Coach Terry Stotts go even crazier. If the Blazers don’t solve this, it’s going to be a long road trip.
Damian Lillard scored only 18 on 7-17 shooting. He did well enough in the lane but the Rockets never let him free. Expecting Lillard Time, the Blazers got this:
CJ McCollum took advantage of the attention paid to Lillard, shooting 11-19 from the field and scoring 26 points.
Caveat: the defense from Portland’s starting backcourt tonight was supercalifragilisticexpialatrocious.
Maurice Harkless also thrived on Houston’s defensive play, getting free for 3-4 triples, 8-12 shots overall, and scoring 19.
At times Evan Turner looked like the only Trail Blazer who knew what he was doing out there. The iso game suited his offense and at least he played passing lanes on “D”. 5-13 shooting, 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals.
Ed Davis had 6 rebounds in 12 minutes.
Meyers Leonard did not start and did not play until garbage time...quite a demotion from his high-profile role since Al-Farouq Aminu went down. Let’s see if it’s situational or something more lasting.
Don’t inquire about anything or anyone else. You don’t want to know the answer.
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Boxscore (caution advised)
TheDreamShake will feel good about this win.
Answer Ashley Williams’ question of the week: Dame or Harden?
The Blazers take on the New Orleans Pelicans tomorrow night at 5:00 p.m. Pacific. Anthony Davis is day-to-day, but so is Portland’s rebounding.
You can help over 2000 underprivileged kids see the Trail Blazers play the 76’ers on March 9th!