This last January, the Portland Trail Blazers arrived in Houston to a familiar sight: four-game road trip, riding a small win-streak, no James Harden. That night, the Blazers probably walked into the Toyota Center believing they had a decent shot at upsetting the new league heartthrob which had gotten off to a historically great start - Chris Paul ended up booming them for 39 points and left Portland licking its wounds at he heels of a 121-112 loss.
Tuesday’s contest had the setup to offer a similar storyline, with Harden riding the pine nursing a bum hamstring, but the end result was anything but, as the Blazers cruised to a a 104-85 blowout over the Rockets.
Both sides got out to a slow start, but Portland finished the first half strong on a 23-8 run to lead by 15 at the break, and that’s just about all it needed. The starters then helped extend that up to 27 in the second half before Houston more or less rolled over and died.
The victory improves the Blazers to a very acceptable 5-2 overall, and culminates a successful 3-1 road trip.
As it stands for at least the present, the Rockets are hardly the darling they once were, sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference standings at 1-5 and looking for something to hang their hat on, albeit without the reigning MVP.
Random thoughts and takeaways:
Word games. We’re going to quickly run out of clever things to say about Damian Lillard at this rate, so instead I present an exercise: We’ve all done Mad Libs - just fill in the blank with the appropriate figure of speech:
Lillard’s performance tonight was [glorifying adjective] - willing the Blazers like a [hyperbolic simile]. With play like this each night, the ceiling for the Blazers becomes [optimistic extrapolation], and Portland fans must feel [gushing enthusiasm].
For real, though, Dame finished the night with a quite economical 22 points on just 10 shots to go with 7 assists. He didn’t need to play most of the fourth quarter.
Failure to launch. It wasn’t the night for Houston’s veteran stars of Paul and Carmelo Anthony, who combined for just 25 points on 8-31 shooting. Anthony in particular was almost unbelievably bad, just chucking everything he could get his hands on at the vicinity of the cylinder as if it were world record pace Skee-Ball. Anthony in 2018 looks like a somebody playing NBA 2K7 with a broken controller - the shoot button is sticky and the pass button hasn’t worked for years. Count yours truly as one of the vocal pro-Melo supporters when his services were rumored to be available back in 2017 - looks like the Blazers dodged a bullet.
Unleash the Beast. After an up-and-down start to the season, Jusuf Nurkic easily had his best game of the season, posting a double-double with 22 points - and likewise on just 10 shots - to go along with 10 boards. The Rockets don’t have a big surplus of bigs that are healthy and Nurk was able to bruise his way to a dominant night. The Bosnian Beast was the largest part of Portland’s 48 points in the paint - a category Houston usually wins.
The Blazers will return to the Moda Center to take on the team that swept them out of the playoffs last year, the New Orleans Pelicans, Thursday night.