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Rockets Reserves Knock Out Blazers

Damian Lillard’s 34-point performance comes up short in Portland’s 111-103 loss to Houston.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Trail Blazers will be able to cite plenty of positive points from their 111-104 loss to the Houston Rockets tonight. Portland led by as many as 15 points in the first quarter. Damian Lillard led all scorers with 34; CJ McCollum topped 20. But when the chips went into the middle, Houston’s second unit proved too much for Portland to overcome. James Harden led Houston scorers with 29, and Chris Paul eked out an 11-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple-double.

Big Gasp Ends In Relief

With 3:27 left in the first quarter, Damian Lillard got tangled up with Nene Hilario on a rebound. The resulting tussle appeared to twist Lillard’s arm in the wrong direction. He came down clutching his right shoulder, which quickly triggered a Blazers timeout. I was legitimately nervous. Fortunately, Dame returned quickly, and seemed to be fine. We will see what tomorrow brings, but for now, crisis averted.

Houston doesn’t have a problem, but Portland might

The Blazers got out in front with a double-digit lead early, but their bench continued a recent trend of surrendering leads. For the majority of the game, Portland’s starters were net-positives on the plus/minus. The five bench players finished with a double-digit negative plus/minus.

Houston, who has the league’s worst bench in terms of point production, netted 37 points from its reserves. Gerald Green recorded 13, which matched the entire output from the Portland’s second unit. Due to the lack of production from the bench, the Blazers found themselves in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.

Individual Performers

Damian Lillard - It doesn’t matter if he’s playing against the reigning MVP, Lillard seems to be the best player every time he steps foot on the court. I would have liked to see him create more for his teammates. His pick-and-roll connection with Jusuf Nurkic was off for long stretches. But Dame still dropped 34 points on 25 shots.

CJ McCollum - Shooting struggles re-appeared for McCollum tonight. He finished with 23 points on 21 shots, and went 0-5 from beyond the arc. Despite getting open looks and getting to the rim with relative ease, McCollum couldn’t get in rhythm. When CJ isn’t hitting shots, he’s not bringing much else to the table.

Jusuf Nurkic - Whenever Nurkic was on the bench, it seemed like Houston would make a run. He’s so valuable to this team, and this contest was more proof. He clogged the lane defensively, and his presence on the offensive boards contributed to the Blazers’ early lead. Portland needs to find a way to survive when Nurkic is not on the court.

The rest of the cast - Blah. Seth Curry hit a couple shots and Moe Harkless made some classic hustle plays. For the most part, it was a disappointing performance from the rest of the roster. Sadly, this trend is becoming the norm.

James Ennis - Shout out to the Long Beach alumnus! (It’s my alma mater.) Ennis pulled a hamstring in the second half and didn't return, but his university roots always warrant notice here.

Final Thoughts

Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic were terrific tonight. They nearly carried the Blazers to a win. They just needed more from the rest of their teammates. The second unit’s energy and execution was abysmal. They looked lost and uninspired. Houston struggled for long stretches, but the three-man bench of Danuel House, Nene, and Green were the difference. Portland’s bench has been hemorrhaging leads lately, but being ripped apart by a shallow bench is a noticeable low.

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Portland travels to Memphis to play the Grizzlies on Wednesday.