Live from the Moda Center, as the Portland Trail Blazers host the
2013 Beard Olympics Houston Rockets.
In two years, the Rockets have turned themselves from a mediocre team full of desirable assets into a legit championship contender. The reason? Houston was able to acquire James Harden, a top ten talent in the NBA, for a bag of magic beans. Okay, fine, it was really for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and three draft picks, but that is still a stunningly lopsided trade that Oklahoma City is going to regret for decades. All hail Dork Elvis.
Add in this past offseason where Dwight Howard decided to take his talents to Galveston—presumably because of the state income tax, the desire to win, and the fact that Chandler Parsons is the only person still laughing at his fart jokes—and the future is looking bright in H-Town.
It’s still a small sample size, but both the Blazers and Rockets enter tonight’s contest currently rated in the top five in offensive rating and bottom five in defensive rating. Expect this one to be high scoring, even with Houston coming in on the second night of a back to back.
I mean, if this is what James Harden’s defense looks like when he’s rested, I can only imagine how brutal it will be tonight after having played last night. He doesn’t even move on half of those possessions! Enjoy the open three pointers, Wesley Matthews.
Seriously. This is the Rockets defense. You would think the twin towers of Dwight Howard and Omer Asik would be enough to shore up any deficiencies on the perimeter, but the Houston backcourt is bad enough that it doesn’t really matter. One thing to watch out for is if Jeremy Lin and James Harden try and fight over picks when Damian Lillard has the ball in a pick and roll scenario. If they go under the big man screener at all, Lillard is going to eat the defense alive. With his outside shot is falling, thirty points seems inevitable.
Hey, happy birthday Bill Walton! May you wander the forests of Oregon in shorts shorts and Grateful Dead gear forever and ever, you magnificent beast.
After missing a few games due to injury, it looks like Patrick Beverley—who recently overtook Jeremy Lin as the starting point guard for the Rockets—is going to make his way back to the court tonight ahead of schedule. He's here to (/puts on sunglasses) stop the Linsanity.
Sorry. Even I hate myself for that joke.
11:20 - Yep, it only took one possession for James Harden to get lost on defense. He got caught up in a screen, and Matthews had his first open three of the night. 3-0 Blazers.
9:14 - And yep, Jeremy Lin went under his first screen on a pick and roll, and Damian Lillard calmly sunk his first wide open three of the game. It is going to be easy living on the perimeter tonight. 9-6 Blazers.
6:14 - That is two fouls and two traveling calls in a row. Well, I guess that is one way to slow down the offense. Way to go refs, you are the best defensive players on the floor. 14-10 Blazers.
5:26 - Five straight for Nicolas Batum. Two on free throws from a clear path foul—which, after the foul, he tried to dunk from the free throw line and failed—and three more on another open three. I hate to harp on the open threes that the Blazers are getting, but it really is pretty glaring in person. There isn't even a hand in their faces on these shots. It's nice to not be the worst defensive team on the floor for a change. 19-10 Blazers.
3:41 - And on the Rockets side of the ball, they seem like they are on the second night of a back to back. Lots of sloppy passes and a couple of charging fouls in a row. Their offense is way out of sync. 21-15 Blazers.
2:20 - Is there anything sweeter than watching Nicolas Batum track a fast break? LeBron James is the king of the chase down block, and rightly so, but Batum is a close second. Too bad the rejection landed right in the hands of Dwight Howard who was fouled and calmly sunk his third and fourth free throws in a row. Wait, isn't that guy supposed to be terrible at free throws? 23-21 Blazers.
1:27 - Harden gives the Rockets the lead. First with a three, then with two free throws after a Blazers turnover. Fear the beard, indeed. 26-23 Rockets.
1:04 - I guess the best defense is a good offense? Or so James Harden seems to think. Another basket, plus the foul, and the Rockets are ending the quarter on a high note. 29-23 Rockets.
9:50 - And we're back! Sorry, I had some internet issues there. You didn't miss much. The Blazers are still getting wide open threes. Lillard just hit his third, and he now has twelve points on the night. 36-32 Blazers.
8:48 - Houston coach Kevin McHale looks like he can't even walk. Every time he gets up from his seat on the bench, he looks like Lurch on roller skates. My knees hurt just being near him. 36-34 Blazers.
7:29 - Meyers Leonard, filling in for an injured Joel Freeland, has three fouls in under six minutes of play. I have my math degree from the University of Phoenix and even I know that is a terrible rate. 39-36 Rockets.
5:52 - Portland's offense has gone stagnant. Last night, the Clippers put up 78 points on Houston in the first half. Here midway through the second quarter Portland is stuck on a paltry 36. They are going to have to outscore this Rockets team, because their defense sure isn't going to shut anyone down. 43-36 Rockets.
4:42 - Robin Lopez just tried posting up Harden near the rim and failed miserably. That is...that is not good. Hey, at least he has three blocks tonight! 45-42 Rockets.
1:58 - There are smart sites that track these sort of things, so this could be completely off base, but I'm going to go ahead and say that James Harden gets more fouls in transition than any other player. It seems like every fast break ends with either a dunk or him shooting free throws. Not to say that isn't deserved—drawing fouls is a skill—but holy hell he is at the line a lot. He just hit his sixth foul shot, off of an and one in transition. 53-47 Rockets.
0:00 - Lillard is pressing a little. He's being hounded by Patrick Beverley, and is trying desperately to get his shot going. He missed an ill-advised step back three, only to have Harden hit the same shot on the other end. As the teams go back to the locker room at half, Terry Stotts is right in Lillard's ear. Big things will be coming for him in the second half, even though he already leads Portland in scoring with twelve. 55-50 Rockets.
10:15 - Robin Lopez picked up his fourth foul on a pretty bogus illegal screen. That means it Meyers Leonard time, which in turn means it is Dwight Howard time. 58-50 Rockets.
8:50 - Three scoreless minutes for Portland and Terry Stotts needs a timeout. Which is good, because the jumbotron is showing clips of Portland players talking about what movies scare them. Nicolas Batum said Jurassic Park, which, did we really need more of a reason to love the dude? Swoon. 60-50 Rockets.
8:07 - Things are getting dicey here in the third. Portland still hasn't scored, and the frustration is stating to show. 65-50 Rockets.
7:32 - Okay, who had Meyers Leonard scoring the first points for the Blazers in the third quarter? You just won the pool. 65-52 Rockets.
6:28 - James Harden just picked up a shooting foul on Wesley Matthews, and it looked like there wasn't any contact in real time. Harden flopped to the ground in agony, and Matthews was mad enough at the call to pick up a technical. Three more free throws for Harden, three more Rockets points. 70-52 Rockets.
4:38 - Aldridge just picked up a convincing and one for the Blazers, taking it hard to the rim and absorbing contact. He actually made the foul shot, which the Blazers have had trouble doing tonight—they are 9-17 while the Rockets, normally a poor foul shooting team, are 21-26. The Blazers get a stop on the defensive end, and pick up another quick bucket in transition. The Rockets are forced to call a timeout to stop the momentum. 74-61 Rockets.
2:00 - A couple of stops, an offensive rebound, an offensive foul, and all of the sudden Portland is right back in this one! Too bad Robin Lopez, inserted back in for defensive purposes, just picked up his fifth foul. Without him, Portland's defense has looked lost tonight. 80-71 Rockets.
0:00 - With the emphasis on the offense not touching the ball after a made basket, and the refs issuing delay of game warnings left and right for it, it's surprising nothing has been done about the the defense "blocking" shots after the whistle. Beverley blocking a shot into the stands when the play was already dead seems way worse than an offensive player handing the ball to a ref after a make. Also, you kids need to get off my lawn. 84-73 Rockets.
10:12 - After picking Jeremy Lin's pocket on one end, Wesley Matthews did a Reggie Miller leg kick out to pick up a three shot foul on Lin on the other. After hitting two of three, the lead is down to single digits. 88-79 Rockets.
8:41 - Matthews does not want to lose this game. He is responsible for seven of the last nine Blazer points, the last three coming off of another open long ball. He followed that up by bodying up Harden on defense, forcing the bearded one into a traveling turnover. Timeout, Blazers ball. 93-86 Rockets.
7:24 - And just like that, the lead has ballooned again. Harden picked up another and one. I'm not keeping track, but I think that is his fifty-seventh of the night. 99-88 Rockets.
5:50 - Unless someone can get hot for Portland, it feels like tonight is all but done. The Rockets are doing just enough to keep this out of reach. Every minor Portland run they have had the answer for. The Blazers are getting frustrated, the crowd is getting frustrated, and Matthews just picked up another foul on Harden. 101-90 Rockets.
5:40 - Matthews picked up another foul, this time for getting an elbow to the face by Dwight Howard, and the crowd is having it out with the officials. That's five fouls for Matthews. The refs made up for it, though, by calling an offensive foul on Howard immediately after the ball was inbounded. 101-90 Rockets.
2:56 - Yep, that'll do it. Harden with the step-back three, bring his point total on the night to thirty-three, and the fans are streaming for the exits. 110-97 Rockets.
2:34 - In what will be an ongoing battle this year, the fans are still chanting "Cha-lu-pa." I guess they heard about the expiration date on the new McDonald's coupons?
1:24 - I don't know if I have mentioned his name tonight, but Patrick Beverley has played an outstanding game. He's hounded the Portland perimeter players, namely Damian Lillard, all night. It may not show up in the stat sheet—he only has twelve points one assist—but he was an integral part to this Houston win. His defense was a difference maker.
FINAL: 116-101 Rockets. Portland just couldn't get enough stops when it mattered, falling behind big in the third once Robin Lopez went down with foul trouble. And for every mini-run the Blazers could manage, James Harden was there with an answer. Portland will look to bounce back on Friday night at home against the Sacramento Kings, and I'll be here with all your Slamson jokes.