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Blazers’ Three-Guard Lineup Sets the Tone in Victory Over Rockets

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Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Norman Powell put on a show in the Trail Blazers’ 140-129 win over the Rockets.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers pushed their current winning streak to four games with a double-digit victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday. The Blazers recorded 50 of their 140 points in the first frame alone, setting a franchise record in the process. Portland’s potent three-guard lineup combined for 90 points. Individually, Damian Lillard led the way with 34 points.

Before we get into the key points from tonight’s contest, make sure you check out our quarter-by-quarter breakdown by clicking here.

Record-Setting Quarter

The Blazers could not miss in the opening frame of Monday’s contest. Portland feasted on slow rotations and mismatches early and often. Once CJ McCollum found his rhythm, which didn’t take long, he absolutely torched the nets. From catch-and-shoot looks to dribble-based shot creation, the former Lehigh standout cruised to a 21-point quarter with a perfect 5-of-5 mark from beyond the arc.

Lillard and Norman Powell also made significant contributions to the Blazers’ 50-point quarter. Powell picked dismantled the Rockets from all three levels and pushed the pace in transition. With Powell and McCollum cooking, Lillard focused on creating opportunities for his fellow guards. Lillard notched five assists in the quarter and Powell recorded 13 points in his first eight-minute shift.

Overall, the Blazers posted a franchise-best 50 points in the opening 12 minutes. From beyond the arc, Portland’s 12 triples tied an NBA record.

Four-Out Struggles

The Rockets did not back down after the Blazers erupted in the first quarter. Instead, Houston utilized a scheme that put pressure on individual matchups on the perimeter. Buoyed by a roster with a plethora of young players looking to carve out a spot in the NBA, the Rockets delivered. To be clear, the Blazers’ defense helped fuel that schemes success by hitting the snooze button for extended stretches.

Jae’Sean Tate, Khyri Thomas, Kenyon Martin Jr. and Armoni Brooks headlined the Rockets’ unheralded group of youngsters. Veteran contributors Kelly Olynyk and D.J. Augustin added to Houston’s scoring punch as well, forcing the Blazers to to fight this one out until the final stages of the fourth quarter. From open lanes to wide-open three-point attempts, the Rockets were given a free pass to keep Monday’s contest on the fringe of interesting.

Pushing for Rest

After enjoying a pair of easy finishes in the past week, it was clear that Lillard’s third-quarter focus was squarely aimed at claiming a rest-filled fourth quarter. Like McCollum in the first quarter, Lillard hit his stride in third frame. When the Rockets crept within a handful of possessions, Lillard let loose from all three levels on the offensive end. The former Weber State star notched 20 of his 34 points in the third quarter alone.

Unfortunately, Lillard’s efforts only created an 11-point cushion as the fourth quarter arrived. After just three minutes in the final frame, the Rockets had climbed to within two possessions—an outcome that summoned Lillard off the bench in short order.

The Blazers’ season now turns to a schedule that concludes with three teams bound for the postseason. Monday’s matchup was the final outing against a sub-500 squad. A win is a win, but it is important to note that Lillard was pressed into 36 minutes of action.

Quick Hits

  • Derrick Jones Jr. returned to the floor and delivered a nice package of highlight-worthy moments. It was clear that he was looking to get downhill from the moment he stepped on to the floor and his teammates made sure to look his way when he did. His dynamic athleticism did not translate to the defensive end for extended stretches, though. That last sentence has a decent chance of popping up again in year-end reviews.
  • Jusuf Nurkic was determined to exploit mismatches on the offensive end. Whenever a smaller defender ended up on him, he went straight to the cup. The big fella finished with 22 points and connected on 10 of his 14 attempts from the field.
  • Olynyk’s night definitely lost steam after he encountered significant foul trouble in the third quarter. But the Blazers failed to hang a sixth foul the former Gonzaga big man once he returned at the midpoint of the fourth quarter.

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Three games remain! The Blazers return to action on Wednesday with a trip to Salt Lake City to face the Jazz.