James Harden

Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

I'm not big on moral victories. As I said last night on Talkin' Ball, this is big-boy basketball and winning on the scoreboard is the only thing that matters.

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But that's not to say we didn't learn some positive things from Saturday night's loss to the Houston Rockets, which finished off an 0-4 homestand for the Trail Blazers. What did we learn? Here's what I saw:

  • Meyers Leonard in the starting lineup worked. I don't care what you think, the guy can flat-out make shots. And this team needs more players who can do that. He probably should have seen fourth-quarter playing time but...
  • Coach Terry Stotts was busy trying to match up with the Rockets' fourth-quarter small lineup. However the problem with Portland's small lineup is that it usually contains more defenders than scorers. And the unfortunate part of that Saturday night was, even though it may have been the team's best defensive group, it was totally incapable of getting defensive stops. In fact, I can't remember a time when I've seen a team stack layup on layup down the stretch of a game the way Houston did to the Trail Blazers. Chris Paul and James Harden not only got to the basket whenever they wanted, they did so with their strong hand -- Harden from the left side and Paul from the right. So...
  • It wouldn't have hurt to have had some help in the basket area to at least harass those layups a bit. I'm not sure why that's so difficult for Portland to do when I see other teams doing it to the Portland guards quite frequently. And the real bottom line to all of that was ...
  • If you aren't getting stops while using your best defenders in that small lineup, forget about it! Face it, the Rockets can be impossible to guard. So...
  • Why not just go with your best offensive players, regardless of size or defensive ability? Make them worry about guarding YOU. Houston hit 15 for 18 from the field in the fourth quarter and murdered Portland from the foul line. Why not just put your best offensive players on the court and try to score with them? Because....
  • YOU WEREN'T ABLE TO STOP THEM AT ALL WITH THAT SMALL LINEUP SO SCRAP IT AND GET SOME SHOOTERS OUT THERE!
  • I may be obsessed with this -- well, I AM obsessed with this -- but I don't like it when the opposing team dictates Portland's lineups. Play the ones who got you the lead instead of the ones who are in the process of blowing a 14-point lead inside one quarter.
  • Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shot their way out of slumps, which was a good sign moving forward.
  • Zach Collins did a terrific job during his time on the floor. He's not afraid to shoot an open shot and he's got a real instinct for blocking shots. I'd sneak him onto the floor as often as possible in the upcoming games to try to kickstart his development by getting him more comfortable. This team is in serious need of rim protection and he might be just the guy to provide it.
  • I don't envy Stotts with the lineup and rotation decisions he has to make on a nightly basis. He almost has too many versions of the same players and he is probably never quite sure what he's going to get from some of them on a night-to-night basis.
  • That said, I'd make sure to not only get Pat Connaughton on the floor every game, I'd make sure he got his shots. He's alert on defense and opportunistic on offense. And he is becoming a reliable scorer if he is allowed to be.
  • Ed Davis may be having one of his best seasons but he's going to struggle getting playing time because, all things being equal, some of the younger players are going to need developmental time and they are going to get it. I see Davis as a valuable trade piece at the deadline -- a big help to a contender looking for a rebounder off the bench.
  • Please, somebody in the league office, take a look at the way Harden is officiated. He often mixes in an extra little hop during his Euro-step and he deserves no extra benefits. And when he misses a shot, it's not always because he was fouled. Thank you.

Lillard, Trail Blazers stay hot, with big win over Houston

Lillard, Trail Blazers stay hot, with big win over Houston

The NBA’s best team in March was in Portland, and on Thursday the red-hot Trail Blazers capped a sizzling month with an impressive 117-107 victory over the Houston Rockets that left the Moda Center buzzing.

Damian Lillard had 31 points and 11 assists and the Blazers won their fifth straight to complete March with an NBA-best 13-3 record.

The Blazers closed the game on a 10-2 run in which Houston’s MVP-candidate James Harden repeatedly came up empty.

Harden, who entered as the NBA’s second leading scorer at 29.3 points, scored 30, but he had only three in the fourth quarter while going 1-for-4 from the field and committing two turnovers.

Portland (37-38) moved 1.5 games ahead of Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot with seven games remaining. Houston (51-24) has locked up the third seed in the Western Conference.

Jusuf Nurkic continued his resurgence in Portland, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks and he scored two late buckets to help seal the game.

But more than anything, the Blazers got huge nights from their role players, none bigger than Maurice Harkless, who had 17 points, six rebounds and three blocks while guarding Harden for much of the game. Harkless made a key play on Harden late in the fourth with the Blazers clinging to a 103-101 lead, poking the ball away for a steal, then later finishing the possession with a driving dunk to put Portland up 105-101 with 3:37 left.

Allen Crabbe also added 17 points, and his strip of Harden, which he took the length of the court for a dunk, gave the Blazers a 113-105 lead with 1:12 and sent the Moda Center into perhaps its loudest decibel of the season.

"We are the sum of our parts,'' Coach Terry Stotts said. "When we get contributions up and down (and) we're not relying on Dame and CJ, it just makes us a better team.''

Lillard scored 11 in the first quarter and 12 in the third and broke the Blazers franchise record for points in the month of March (465), eclipsing Clyde Drexler in 1989 (439 points).

The Blazers led 65-56 at halftime as they rode the play of Lillard and Nurkic and got sizeable contributions from their role players. Lillard had another strong opening quarter, hitting his first three 3-pointers en route to 11 points, but he was complemented by Harkless, who also scored 11 while also being tasked with the defensive assignment on Harden.

The Blazers took advantage of Harden on the bench to start the second quarter, extending a 32-31 lead to 54-42 before Harden returned with 6:21 left. The Blazers’ spurt was led by Allen Crabbe and Al-Farouq Aminu, with Crabbe hitting three 3-pointers and Aminu scoring eight.

Next up: Phoenix at Blazers, 7 p.m. Saturday (CSN)

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James Harden and Houston dominate Trail Blazers again

James Harden and Houston dominate Trail Blazers again

The Trail Blazers on Sunday had no answer for James Harden -- again -- as their defensive woes continued with a 130-114 loss to Houston at the Moda Center.

Harden, who entered the game tied for fourth in the NBA in scoring (28.3 points) and leading the league in assists (12.4), controlled the game offensively from start to finish with his playmaking, finishing with 38 points, 10 assists and two rebounds.

The Blazers were within 96-93 at the start of the fourth quarter and 96-95 after Ed Davis dunked to open the quarter, but Houston (11-6) hit six three-pointers in the fourth to cruise to its fifth win in six games. The Rockets went 17-of-36 from three-point range (47.2 percent).

Portland, which entered the game giving up the second most points in the NBA (112.8), allowed at least 120 points for the sixth time this season as Houston shot 56.1 percent from the field. The Blazers (9-10) have lost six of their past eight. Portland fell to 2-8 against teams with a .500 record or better. 

CJ McCollum had 28 points and seven assists and Damian Lillard added 27 points, but also seven turnovers, for the Blazers, who also got 18 points from Maurice Harkless and another almost-triple-double from Mason Plumlee (11 points, eight rebounds, seven assists).

The Rockets looked like they would run away with it in the third quarter when they took an 85-75 lead when Harden found center Clint Capela for a lob dunk. But Portland scored the next 10, the last six on three-pointers by Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe. 

Houston led 65-62 at halftime as Harden dominated control of the game with his shooting (21 points) and passing (five assists). The Blazers had leads as large as five in the first half, thanks in part to the shooting of McCollum, who made his first five shots and had 20 points by halftime. 

Next up: Indiana at Blazers, 7 p.m. Wednesday

Trail Blazers absorb another blow out, this time to James Harden and Rockets

Trail Blazers absorb another blow out, this time to James Harden and Rockets

HOUSTON -- The Trail Blazers' trouble with good teams continued Thursday in Houston when the Rockets became the latest team to blowout the Blazers. 

Behind a 41-point first quarter and a 38-point third quarter, Houston routed Portland 126-109 behind James Harden's third triple-double of the season: 26 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists. 

The game was tied at 62 at halftime, but in the third quarter the Blazers quickly lost sight of the Rockets, who took leads as large as 25 after playing the night before in Oklahoma City. 

Allen Crabbe - who started at small forward -- hurt his right knee on the Blazers' first offensive possession of the second half and had to leave the game (he later returned). Then Harden and the rest of the Rockets had their way with a porous Blazers' defense, getting close-range shot after close-range shot on the way to 65 percent shooting in the quarter (15-of-23). At one point, Harden assisted on four consecutive Rockets baskets, securing his triple double with time left in the third quarter. 

The Blazers (7-6) have two quality wins this season -- opening night against Utah and at Memphis -- and have struggled to beat lower-division teams. When the Blazers have faced elite teams, they have been dominated, with losses to the Clippers (by eight and 31 points), Golden State (23), and Chicago (25) and now Houston (17 points).

The Blazers, who entered the game giving up the second most points in the NBA, were one point off their season high in points allowed. The Rockets, who entered as the 9th highest scoring team, scored a season high.

CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 26 points after hitting his first six shots. Maurice Harkless added 19 points and six rebounds and Damian Lillard had 18 points, five assists and five rebounds on 7-of-17 shooting.

Houston (7-5) had six players in double figures. Trevor Ariza (16 points) hit four three-pointers and point guard Patrick Beverley was effective in his season debut with 11 points, three assists and three blocks, including one on a three-point attempt by Lillard.

The Blazers forged a 62-62 tie at halftime after trailing by as many as 15 in the first quarter. The comeback was fueled in part by Evan Turner, whose defense on Harden and Eric Gordon slowed the Rockets, and his eight points helped ignite a 33-point second quarter. 

Coach Terry Stotts started Crabbe alongside Maurice Harkless at forward and the Blazers bolted to a 6-0 run, all three of the baskets coming on layins. But Houston scored the next 10 and eventually took a 41-29 lead after the first quarter as Harden had 16 points, six rebounds and six assists. McCollum kept the Blazers in contact by hitting his first six shots. 

Next up: Blazers at New Orleans, 5 p.m. Friday (CSN)