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)