LIVE from DaModa, where the eyes of a nation turn to Rip City.
OK, maybe just the eyes of a national television audience—or, more accurately, those a) still awake on the East coast and/or b) tuning into TNT hoping to catch "Rush Hour 3" for the third time this week. But nonetheless(!), the game of the night in the National Basketball Association is being played in Northeast Portland (when's the last time you could say that?!), as the first-place Blazers host the Houston Rockets at 7:30ish.
Two high-efficiency offenses clash in a meeting between one team everyone expected to be good out West (that'd be Houston) and another few predicted would be be leading the conference (you know). Behind All-Star shoo-ins James Harden and offseason super-addition Dwight Howard, Houston is top the scoring team in the league. But the Blazers have a few potential All-Stars of their own, and are undoubtedly playing with more confidence than the fellas that fell to Houston here by 15 in early November. A win tonight would not only keep Portland atop the conference, it'd give the Blazers another dose of schedule cred—the type earned during legit wins against legit teams like Indiana and OKC.
Plus, hey, we're on TV! But since you obviously don't have cable (and streaming sites are ILLEGAL and IMMORAL) click past the jump and follow along as I deftly describe the action—on and off the floor.
Houston Rockets (15-7)—Partrick Beverley and James Harden on guard. Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones up front. Dwight Howard at center.
On the bench: Aaron Brooks, Omer Asik, Greg Smith, Jeremy Lin, Ronnie Brewer, Omri Casspi, Donatas Motiejunas, Francisco Garcia.
Portland Trail Blazers (18-4)—Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews on guard. Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge up front. Robin Lopez at center.
On the bench: Dorrell Wright, Will Barton, Meyers Leonard, Earl Watson, Victor Claver, Joel Freeland, Allen Crabbe, Mo Williams and Thomas Robinson.
PREGAME: One of the first fans in the arena night was Trevor Smith of Southeast Portland, who, along with five buddies, has been a season-ticket holder for five season. They post up in Section 206, Row P—a line of seats Smith learned two days ago would be removed from the arena while the Blazers are out on their next road trip. Fired up for a moment about losing his seats in the North end of the arena (where Portland more often than not finishes the fourth quarter) Smith said he and his crew have since "been well taken care of" by the Blazers.
"They came correct," said Smith, wearing an "I [TREE] PDX" hoodie and holding a sign that reads: "Never Forget Row P."
Hence, his early arrival: The Blazers allowed Smith and his buddies to enter the arena a couple hours before tip-off and pick out open seats in the 100-level to sit in for the rest of the season. They chose to mix it up and grab seats in a few different places, but, as Smith stressed "nowhere near Free Throw Guy." Smith also reported the Blazers staff had "no firm answers" on why the seats were being removed. I'll check with Blazers staff and see what'll become of Row P (RIP).
Back on the court, Houston will be coached by Kelvin Sampson, who will fill in for normal skipper Kevin McHale—the Celtics legend whose mother passed away recently.
The Turner Network Television broadcast makes for a late tip, and it appears fans in Portland knew that fact. The late-arriving crowd is trickling in now, and we're likely looking at a 7:50ish start. BUT MARV ALBERT IS IN THE BUILDING, so it's cool.
Jones—a Jefferson grad— gets a nice ovation when introduced. Howard is booed because he used to be a Laker.
FIRST QUARTER: And away we go! Rockets win the tip (because Lopez didn't even try to out-jump Howard)
11:22—Blazers strike first as Batum follows up an Aldridge miss and lays one in about as uncontested as you can get on the first possession of the game.
10:11—Jones on the break and throws down a dunk. Rockets lead 4-2 and the hometown kid probably made a few folks in the arena happy with that one.
9:19—Lopez with a baseline drive and reverse layup to tie it at 4. The Rockets do not appear to be a good defensive team. Like, at all.
7:55—But they can score. After Matthews misses a wiiiiiiide open 3, Harden sprints ahead of the break and goes up strong for a rebound. On the other end, Batum hits the first triple of the night, and Portland leads 9-6.
5:53—The Blazers have no answer for Harden on the break (then again, does anyone?). Timeout on the floor after the bearded one drives the length of the floor, possibly elbows Matthews in the face, and drops in another left-handed layup. He does that well. We're tied at 9—Batum leading all scorers with five. Neither team shooting well. Portland is 4 of 15, Houston is 4 of 13—both below 30%.
4:30—Mo Williams on for the Blazers. He finds Aldridge, who misses, chases down his own rebound and hits a fadeaway. Nice effort play there for LA, who puts Portland up 13-11.
4:17—Lin enters for Beverley. The former's first action in seven games.
2:54—Williams with a floater over Howard for a bucket, then Lin sprints the length of the floor for a layup.
2:26—Timeout on the floor after Harden misses a layup and commits a pure frustration foul on Batum at midcourt. Blazers lead 17-15 as both sides struggle to shoot.
1:28—Garcia hits a 3 from the corner—Houston's first—to give the Rockets an 18-17 lead. Aldridge is struggling from the field (1 of 7) but he already has eight rebounds.
0:00: Blazers lead 21-20 after Portland can't score on its last possession. Lillard drove the lane, but Jones came over got a partial block. Not-so-good offensive starts for two sides that are supposed to be among the best offensive teams in the league. Blazers shooting 30%, Houston isn't much better—they're at 37%. Harden leads all scorers with eight. Portland is being paced by Matthews, who has six.
SECOND QUARTER: Blazers start with it. Robinson is on for Portland.
11:44—Lillard with his first FG of the game, a frozen rope of a 3-pointer. Blazers lead by 4 and the crowd is officially into it.
11:10—Omri Casspi is on the Rockets, and therefore he's able to get on the break and score on a fast break. That's been Houston's wellspring of offense tonight.
10:03—Robinson will go to the line after staying with the ball after missing three straight times. Crowd gives him some love for the effort and he hits both free throws. Portland up 28-24.
9:43—Jones with his second DUNK of the night. I use all caps because he did it with authority. Shook the rim pretty good and even flexed a little. "Go Demos!" yelled someone in the crowd, probably.
8:52—Timeout on the floor. Blazers up 28-26.
8:26—Houston on the break and Parsons with a layin. This is looking eerily familiar. Houston up 2.
7:50—After a steal, Howard with a little hook shot to give the Rockets their biggest lead. Houston leads 32-28 as the Rockets are inching toward a respectable shooting clip. Blazers...still shooting 30%.
6:53—Another easy layup for Houston and the Rockets grab a 36-31 lead. Easy shots are helping. Harden leads all scorers with 10. Aldridge back on the floor for Portland after the timeout. He has just two points, but is contributing to the cause with nine rebounds.
6:23—Batum and Lopez run the pick-and-roll to perfection, and it ends with a Lopez dunk. Blazers within three.
4:33—Harden to the line for a couple throws. Blazers are struggling on both ends, but especially offensively. Still shooting 30%, including 2 of 11 from long range. Harden hits a pair and Houston leads 38-33.
3:16—Aldridge hits that un-guardable fadeaway jumper to pull Portland within a pair. It's time to get LA going if Portland hopes to claim a lead at the half.
2:15—Timeout on the floor after Batum blocks one out of bounds. Houston leads 42-40 but Portland looks to be picking it up some to close out the first half.
0:22.7—Houston takes a timeout with a one-point lead. These teams are shooting about as well as bad guys on The A-Team. Not good. Both under 40%. Ick.
0:10.9—Houston can't do much on their possession and the Blazers take a timeout, down one. No shot clock when we come back.
HALFTIME: Houston leads 44-43 after a fugly final possession for Portland. Blazers pass on a couple looks and Matthews leans in for a contested shot. Harden leads all scorers with 12 points, while Howard has 11 points and 10 rebounds. Blazers are spreading out the scoring load (if you can call it a load): Batum and Aldridge have eight points each (LA with 10 boards), while Robinson has seven.
SECOND HALF: Blazers have it. Starting 5 back on the court.
11:44—Aldridge drills a jumper from the top of the key and Portland jumps out to a lead. Aldridge with 10 and 10.
10:14—Aldridge with a steal and Blazers set up the O. Batum finds Lopez on a lob into the lane, and Lopez finishes. Blazers up 49-47.
9:42—Matthews misses a 3, but Aldridge sneaks in and grabs the rebound scores easily while Howard and Parsons watch helplessly (and rather effortlessly).
9:25—Matthews connects from right in front of the Houston bench. His first 3, and he lets out a booming scream after that one. Timeout on the floor and the Blazers have their biggest lead of the night, 54-47.
8:46—Aldridge warming up. He drains one from the top of the key as Portland extends its lead to nine. Aldridge with six points so far this half.
7:55—Matthews finds Lopez in the lane on a pick-and-roll and the big man does the rest. Two-handed dunk, and one. He converts the free throw and Portland leads by 10.
7:12—Houston cuts the lead in half with a Harden 3 and a mid-ranger by Jones. Smattering of applause for the Portland native.
6:36—After some sloppiness on both sides, Aldridge finds Matthews in the corner for another 3. Portland leads 62-55 and the crowd is into it.
6:00—M-V-P chants for Aldridge at the line after he fights hard for a rebound and puts one back, +1. Fans here love that kind of effort. He'll hit the free throw and Portland is up 8.
5:07—Aldridge is feeling it. He drains another jumper from near the top of the key. He has 19 points—11 this quarter alone.
3:57—Matthews goes down hard but is fouled. He got rim-checked more than contact there. Matthews hits one of two and Portland is up 68-60.
2:30—Portland leads 70-64 and we'll have a TV timeout after a Lopez foul. Aldridge has taken over this quarter, and three other Blazers are in double figures. Both teams shooting at 38%. This one hasn't been pretty—but it's been pretty entertaining.
2:00—We're tied at 70 after Casspi hits a pair of free throws. Rockets have taken Portland's best punch and are still standing.
1:25—Aldridge left open along the baseline on a pick-and-roll and nails a jumper. Blazers up 72-71.
0:08.4—After a Williams 3, Harden answers with a triple of his own. Blazers bring it down and get it to Aldridge, who's fouled by Lin and sent to the deck. Aldridge hits one of two.
0:00—Lin airmails a 3-pointer in the waning seconds, and we're tied at 76. Harden has 21 points, Howard has 20. Aldridge leads all scorers with 22. We've had 15 lead changes in this one, and chances are we'll have a few more.
FOURTH QUARTER: Houston will start with it.
11:26—Aldridge with a double-clutch, draw-the-foul jumper. He hits the free throw and has 25 points and 20 rebounds after a bad shooting start. Blazers lead 79-76.
10:49—Now Wright drains a 3. Blazers lead 82-76 and the volume has picked up here. Good time for the home team to make a run here.
10:14—Williams with a floater to put Portland up 84-76. Timeout on the floor after Portland goes on an 8-0 run to start the quarter.
9:46—Williams dishes to Lopez on the baseline, and he'll finish. Blazers up 10. Pulling away?
7:37—Williams goes strong to the hoop and puts one off the glass. Jones gets a hand on it, and it'll be goaltending.
7:07—Timeout on the floor after Parsons drains a 3. Portland pulling away? Not yet. Houston's cut their deficit to five.
5:35—Lopez hits a jumper from just outside the free throw line and Portland is up 97-90. Blazers now shooting 44%, Houston at 40%.
2:47—Batum drains a 3 form the corner, and Portland is up 102-95. On the other end, Harden goes right at Lopez and draws a foul on a dunk attempt. Timeout on the floor and wow, Aldridge is having himself a game. He's got 27 points and 24 rebounds. The other #12 on the floor, the aforementioned Mr. Howard, is at 26 points and 14 rebounds.
2:30—Aldridge draws a foul and puts up a shot, and for some reason Howard goal-tends it. LA converts the free throw and he has 30 points. Anyone awake on the East coast?
2:05—And now Matthews goes strong for a bucket +1. He converts and Portland leads 108-96.
1:00—Beverley and Lillard are getting a little too close and talkative. Double-technicals called. Batum hits a pair of free throws, and Portland leads 111-100. Ballgame.
FINAL: Portland wins 111-104. Blazers storm back from a one-point halftime deficit and start the fourth quarter on a big-time run to knock off the Rockets. Is LaMarcus Aldridge an MVP candidate? Yes, yes he is. The two-time Western Conference Player of the Week finishes with 31 points and 25 rebounds—the first such performance in Blazer history. And it all came after starting 1 of 7 from the field. Whoa. Matthews adds 18 points, while Lopez scores 16 and grabs 10 boards, Batum chips in 15 and Williams has 13.
Houston is led by Howard, who finishes with 32 points and 17 rebounds. Harden chips in 25 points and six rebounds, followed by 14 points from Parsons and 10 points from hometown guy Jones. Both teams shot poorly (Portland 43%, Houston 42%) but Portland hit big shots down the stretch to improve to 19-4 on the season.
The Blazers will now hit the road for a four-game trip, starting Saturday at Philly. They'll hit Detroit, Cleveland and Minnesota before returning home Dec. 21 to face the Pelicans (which I assure you is the name of an actual NBA franchise).