Things were looking grim early before the Blazers started to find their shooting touch in the second half. Damian Lillard did most of his damage before the break, scoring 21 of his 32 points in the first half. Then Portland rode the hot hand of CJ McCollum, who carried the team to victory with 44 points, including a career-high 9 threes to go along with 8 assists.
McCollum’s counterpart nearly stole the show. James Harden, who might be strongly re-thinking his list of preferred trade destinations following his visit to the Rose City, turned in 44 points of his own, dished out 17 assists and had the go-ahead bucket late in overtime that almost sealed the upset before McCollum drilled a 25-foot angle three with 6.9 seconds remaining.
The familiar themes from Wednesday’s disastrous opener against Utah surfaced again early: bad perimeter defense; poor shooting and a general lack of a unified identity. The Blazers haven’t looked good since the preseason opener against Sacramento and each minute that drags on feels like desperate anticipation for the other shoe to drop... and it just hasn’t. Granted, it’s only two games into the season, but Portland doesn’t just look slow out of the gates, they look like a bad basketball team.
Among the deficiencies Terry Stotts has the task of correcting sooner than later, near the top of that list must be finding consistent offense from anybody not named Lillard or McColllum. Together, the duo combined for nearly 2⁄3 of the Blazers’ 102 shot attempts, which is in no way sustainable. This roster has been heralded as one of the deepest Portland has had in recent memory, but the actual product is so far very much a work in progress. Carmelo Anthony has been essentially unplayable, shooting only 2-9 from the field in 20 minutes, and especially so defensively next to Enes Kanter, where the duo had a team-worst plus/minus of -16 and -8, respectively.
At the other end of the spectrum, Robert Covington (+16) finally got his first bucket as a Blazer early in the third quarter and finished with just 9 points, after scoring only one point in his debut. I’m not even sure that’s entirely his fault, as his presence within the offense has so far only been opportunistic - a far cry from what many expected from the Neil Olshey’s prized offseason acquisition.
It’s easy to fall back on the old adage “Never apologize for a win,” but it’s hard to find many positives from this game that don’t come along with a red flag. Portland held Houston to only 11-35 from beyond the arc, but also allowed them to shoot nearly 50% overall and coughed up 32 free throws. Early on, it looked like Kanter and Jusuf Nurkic would be able to exploit their considerable advantage in sheer body mass over the undersized Rockets, but it was the long and lanky Christian Wood who ended up impressing the most, turning in 31 points and 13 rebounds.
There’s a lot to unpack - stay tuned for the extended recap.
The Blazers will a day off before heading south to take on the Los Angeles Lakers Monday evening at 7 p.m.