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.