Houston’s all-star duo of Dwight Howard and James Harden combined to score 62 points, with many of those coming in the paint, to power the Rockets to a 116-101 victory over the Trail Blazers Tuesday night at the Moda Center.
The loss, their first at home this season, drops to the Trail Blazers to 2-2 on the season.
“Houston is a talented team and I give them credit for the way they played,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Harden made tough shots. Howard finished around the basket and made his free throws. We could never quite get over the hump.”
The Rockets, one of the most disciplined teams in the NBA when it comes to shot selection, outscored the Trail Blazers 54-28 in the paint and 19-6 on fastbreak points.
“They’re very specific in what they do,” said Stotts. “They shoot threes and they get to the paint. Guys like Harden get to the rim, get to the paint. Lin gets to the rim, gets to the paint. Obviously Howard was 10 for 13 and I don’t think he took anything outside the paint. That’s their style of play and then you throw in transition which is usually paint points, that’s part of what they do. That being said, I think we need to do a better job of defending the paint. We’re one of the bottom teams right now (in opponents points in the paint). We’ve been defending the three well, but we’ve got to do a better job of defending the rim and defending the paint.”
Portland trailed by just five going into the intermission but the game turned early in the second half when Robin Lopez was assessed his fourth foul with 11:11 to to play in the third quarter. From that point, the Rockets would go on a 17-4 run to take control.
“We passed up a lot of shots in the third quarter,” said Wesley Matthews, who finished the game with 19 points, three rebounds and a steal while committing four fouls trying to slow down Harden. “We were trying to maybe do too much, a little too unselfish. Coach has a thing where he keeps saying, ‘Keep playing. Keep playing. Keep playing.’ Plays were made and we’re supposed to shoot it and we didn’t shoot it. I know I turned down some, Nic turned down some. There’s still two ends of the court and we didn’t make many stops on that end.”
Portland would make numerous runs late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, cutting the lead to five with 8:11 to play after a Mo Williams 20-footer, but they would get no closer than that, ultimately losing by a 15-point margin.
‘They’re the type of team that can put runs on you,” said Stotts. “They put points up quickly. We did a decent job of staying within striking distance. We cut it to five. At the end of the third quarter we had a steal and a break away that had a a chance of breaking the momentum, but like I said, on a night that we didn’t necessarily shoot the ball well, it was difficult to catch them.”
Damian Lillard lead the Trail Blazers in scoring with 22 points to go along with five assist and four rebounds in 42 minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 21 points, five rebounds, two steals and a block. Aldridge became the first Trail Blazers since Cliff Robinson in 1995 to start the season with four 20-plus point performances.
Lopez was limited to 18 minutes due to foul trouble, which is not entirely unexpected when matching up opposite of Howard.
“I think I did some good things individually, but I don’t know if I did great things for the team,” said Lopez of his defensive effort. “There were a few possessions where they got to the rim too easily. Just all night, they had too many shots at the rim.”
Wesley Matthews ended the night with 19 points, three rebounds and a steal and Nicolas Batum rounded out Portland’s double figure scorers with 13 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
With Joel Freeland sidelined with a sore hip, Meyers Leonard played his first significant minutes of the regular season backing up Lopez, finishing with six points and two rebounds in 14 minutes.
“I thought he played well,” said Lopez of Leonard’s performance. “First, I thought he shot the ball with confidence when his shot was available. There were a few issues here and there on defense, but I thought he worked hard out there. I don’t think he hesitated too much out there, which I think is important.”
The Rockets were lead by Harden who, after a rough performance Monday night against the Clippers in L.A., scored 33 points on 11-for-18 shooting while going nine-for-ten from the free throw line. Howard turned in a double-double with 29 points and 13 assists.
“The guys showed a lot of resilience, James (Harden) and Dwight (Howard) had tremendous games, I thought Omri (Casspi) had a tremendous game off the bench, Patrick (Beverley) gave us a big lift, so everybody played well. It was really, you know, the guys that were out there did a nice job.”
The Trail Blazers now have two days off before beginning a home-and-home back-t0-back series with the Sacramento Kings Friday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”