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Rockets Game Showed Big-Picture Present, Perhaps Future, for Blazers

Portland looked like they were supposed to against Houston, and showed what is to come.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers ran over the Houston Rockets last night, winning their fifth game in six tries on the young season by a score of 125-111. We shared some post-game analysis after the contest finished, but it’s time for a couple big-picture reflections in the wake of the victory. The win was nice. Here are three more things to ponder as you bask in the glory.

Living Up to Ideals

First, the Rockets game gave Portland fans a glimpse of what the Blazers would like to play like: moving fast, sharing the ball, taking advantage of strong drives to the hoop punctuated by quick threes off the kick out or screens. Houston was a good test case because they’re young and, frankly, not that coordinated or good right now. Saying the Blazers were unopposed would be inaccurate and insulting. But the Rockets play with a pace and looseness that allows opponents to move freely. That not only made Portland look good on offense, it allowed them to show their ideal.

If this was a proof-of-concept game, the Blazers acquitted themselves well. They played with awareness and near-total unselfishness in a situation where any individual player could have claimed the right to dominate. Showing that kind of chemistry this early is a great sign, even if defenses get stiffer and the ideal harder to reach in the future.

Defensive Gaps

To balance that, let’s return to something we pointed out in last night’s analysis. Defensive coordination hasn’t reached the same level as offensive. The Blazers still aren’t getting to the three-point arc or getting back in transition with energy. Some of that might be scheme, but hustle plays a big role in both areas.

In past years, Portland has been content being the “good, with an asterisk” team. They’re beginning to wonder themselves if they’ll coalesce into something special. If so, it won’t be because of desire or talent. The difference between good and great is effort. The difference between great and contending is habit. These little defensive gaps show that both qualities need work, even with the celebratory start.

Present Meets Future

The Blazers will not be able to do without Damian Lillard this season, or in any season in the near future. But this early run of the Anfernee Simons-Shaedon Sharpe backcourt looked really good. Caveats abound for age and level of competition, but it’s clear that this duo has the inside track on the starting positions for the decade to come.

Lillard presents an interesting contrast with the coming generation. He’s more of a halfcourt player, isolation-based, whereas the new wave in Portland is about speed and movement. His overwhelming talent (and the need for his leadership) will keep him central this season for sure. Likely next season as well. But if early returns become full-blown results, the Blazers are in for some interesting times after that. What might the pecking order be between 34-year-old Lillard and the 25- and 21-year-old combo of Simons and Sharpe?

This is less of a serious question for now and more of a look at the awesome gap that exists between those poles of the franchise. The Phoenix Suns are having to negotiate these issues constantly. Are the Blazers in the on-deck circle? If so, can they find the same success the Suns have while doing so?

The Blazers pick up the schedule again on Wednesday night, facing Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and the Memphis Grizzlies.