The Blazers are .500! Heading into the All-Star break, Portland has chipped their way back to a respectable 27-27. Before we get into last night’s win against the Rockets, just let that sink in.
Having lost four of their five starters, the Blazers were expected to be one of the worst teams in the Western Conference coming into the season. Vegas had their over/under at just 26 wins, but the Blazers have already surpassed that total and it’s still just early February. Unreal. Give Coach Stotts a medal or something, he has these dudes playing their assess off.
This team was scuffling at 15-24 a month ago. With a blowout win in Houston, a come from behind overtime victory in Memphis, and another home win against Houston, that’s three in a row for the streaking Blazers. Winners of 12 of their last 15, somehow the Blazers are the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
Even better? Were the season to end now, the Rockets would be out of the playoffs.
It it wasn’t for a 35-foot Corey Brewer banked in three early in the season, the Blazers would be 3-0 against this awful Houston team. Oof. You want anyone from the Rockets? Daryl Morey is about to open up shop before the trade deadline. It’s a fire sale, everyone must go.
Hey, at least they put up a little more of a fight than the game in Houston a few nights ago. Their body language wasn’t any better, but they weren’t completely run out of the gym. Dwight Howard got things going early and was all but unstoppable, sinking his first 9 shots from the field. Dwight unstoppable early, though the Rockets ultimately lost? Hmm, where have I seen this play out before?
If it wasn’t Howard in the post, it was Harden cooking everywhere else. Big beard threw up a cool fifteen in the first frame, and those two combined for 26 of Houston’s 29 points in the first. The two man game was working, but that was about all that was working.
Things got chippy once again between Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard, with Beverley giving Dame a solid shove in the back in transition. The play clearly got under Dame’s skin—he slammed the ball in frustration and had to be calmed by a coach as they refs looked at the play to see if it was a flagrant. So of course, when play resumed after it was called a common foul, Beverley flopped on a little push off and forced Lillard into a questionable offensive foul.
It was as mad as you’re likely to see Dame, and it fueled Portland’s first early run. He hit one triple and went for a deep dagger that just rimmed out, much to the chagrin of the swelling home crowd. Next time down, Lillard found Moe Harkless in the corner for three. Portland pushed their lead to eight, and as Houston walked into a timeout Dame urged the crowd to get into it while heading back to the bench.
And, oh boy, immediately out of the timeout Harden threw just about the laziest entry pass you’re likely to see to Howard in the post. Of course it was picked off. Dame threw a bullet of an outlet pass to a streaking Harkless and Portland’s lead ballooned to double digits behind a 12-0 run. That pathetic sequence must have infuriated Coach Bickerstaff—without hesitation he called a second Popovich-ian timeout.
Harden’s body language flipped. After scoring 15 in the first frame, he was held without a point in the second and seemed to turn the ball over nearly every possession. He walked through plays, loafed it back in transition, and seemed more interested in being anywhere other than a basketball court. It was like he was at the club and they just told him they ran out of vodka.
The second half started with more of the same from Houston: bad transition defense, worse transition defense, turnovers, and players running at half-speed. Portland pushed their lead out to 21, and most of those buckets simply came from Harkless running hard. Moe, getting the start once again, had his best game in a Blazers uniform with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and a walk off interview.
The Blazers should have put this one away, but Houston kept hanging around mostly due to Harden running into the lane with his head down and picking up foul calls. He made a living at the line at the end of the third, and the Rockets ended the quarter on a 16-6 run to get it back to an eleven-point game.
And then the threes started falling. After missing open triples all night, the Houston role players finally started contributing—Jason Terry and Marcus Thornton hit from deep while Portland's lead dwindled to just five points.
But, come on, we’re still talking about the Rockets here. They can put points up in a hurry, but can also give them up just as easily. A quick 14-2 run for Portland, highlighted by a couple of back-breaking Howard turnovers, put things away for good. Lillard poured it on for good measure and jawed one last time with Beverley. It's no surprise that Coach Bickerstaff called his team broken after the game. Houston is a mess.
What a way to head into the break.