Houston Rockets

Countdown to Tip-Off: Blazers beat Rockets in 2009 home opener

Countdown to Tip-Off: Blazers beat Rockets in 2009 home opener

We're counting down the days until the Portland Trail Blazers open up the 2019-2020 NBA season by looking back at each of the victories in the 18-game home opener win streak. Here is a look at what happened back in 2009 when the Portland Trail Blazers faced the Houston Rockets in the home-opener.

Can’t remember what the NBA was like in 2009? Let’s paint the picture:

  • LeBron James was the reigning MVP 
  • The Los Angeles Lakers were the defending champions
  • Derrick Rose had just won Rookie of the Year
  • Blake Griffin was the No.1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, but sat out the entire season due to injury. 
  • The Blazers had the No.22 pick and drafted Victor Claver. They also drafted Dante Cunningham (No.33), Jon Brockman (No.38), and Patty Mills (No.55)
  • The Blazers signed PG Andre Miller in the offseason, one of the team's biggest free-agent signings to date. 

As for the Blazers home opener...

The Blazers dominated most of this game, but things got interesting late. Portland started the fourth quarter with the 75-56 lead, but the Rockets weren't willing to go down without a fight. Houston slowly chipped away and following two free throws from David Anderson, they had it down to just a six-point lead with 2:19 left in the game. However, Portland was able to hold Houston to just four points the rest of the way and picked up the 96-87 victory to win their ninth home opener in a row. 

Notable stats: 

Houston -

Aaron Brooks – 19 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds.

Trevor Ariza– 12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists

Kyle Lowry – 12 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals

Portland –

Brandon Roy – 20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists 

LaMarcus Aldridge – 11 points, 6 rebounds

Travis Outlaw – 23 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals

The Blazers would finish the season 50-32, good for the sixth-best record in the Western Conference. Portland would go on to lose to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs. 

Houston Texans and Portland native Brennan Scarlett talks allegiance to Trail Blazers

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Houston Texans and Portland native Brennan Scarlett talks allegiance to Trail Blazers

Houston Texans Linebacker Brennan Scarlett joined the Brian Noe Show on Friday to not only talk about his season with the Texans, but also to display his love for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Scarlett grew up in Portland, Oregon and attended Central Catholic High School.

While in high school he was a three-sport athlete, lettering in football, swimming, and track & field. Scarlett appeared in the 2010 U.S. Army All-American Bowl and was named a 2010 PrepStar All-American and SuperPrep All-American.

Scarlett then went on to play at Stanford before going undrafted in 2016, and then signing with the Texans. 

On Friday’s show, a big topic of conversation was sports allegiances.

Noe first asked Scarlett: “You shouldn’t be forced to root for the Rockets, right?”

“No chance…  Having bounced around a little bit, as far as cities go, since [going to] college in the Bay Area and now here in Houston, I think you can always be a fan of your hometown team, it’s a given,” Scarlett said.

Scarlett added, “Now that I’m in Houston. I’m a Rockets fans too. You’ve got to give me some leeway.”

The Texans linebacker also noted, “the roots have to take priority” when it comes to the possibility of the Blazers and Rockets playing each other in the postseason. Scarlett also said he would make sure to rock his Trail Blazers snapback hat and Dame Lillard jersey, even in Houston at the Toyota Center.

“We’re straight Blazers in that situation,” Scarlett said.

This has always been an interesting discussion about a player’s native roots versus the city you play in and who you root for with other professional sports teams.

REPORT: 1st Lillard vs. Westbrook matchup of season set for November

REPORT: 1st Lillard vs. Westbrook matchup of season set for November

You may or may not believe that Damian Lillard waved goodbye and ended the Russelll Westbrook era in OCK with his 37-foot buzzer beater.

Even if you don't think 'the shot' had anything to do with the Thunder going in a new direction, fans all across the league have fun watching the Lillard and Westbrook matchup.

So it's time to mark your calendar.  

According to a report from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the very first Lillard and Westbrook showdown since their postseason matchup is tentatively slated for November 17th in Houston.

With reports of Christmas Day games and various other regular season games being rumored all over twitter, NBA fans are even more eager for the 2019-20 NBA regular season schedules to be released.

The NBA should be announcing the schedules the second week of August.

For the Trail Blazers, Portland will reportedly not being play a Christmas Day Game.

Make sure to keep checking back at NBS Sports Northwest for more on the Blazers schedule has we get closer to its release.

Rockets get Westbrook -- Did they watch him play in the Blazer playoff series?

Rockets get Westbrook -- Did they watch him play in the Blazer playoff series?

So the Houston Rockets wanted Russell Westbrook so bad they gave up Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two first-round swaps Thursday?

To get a point guard who seems very close to being an impossible partner for James Harden.

And I really think somebody should ask the question in Houston – did you guys watch any other playoff series but your own last spring?

The Westbrook we saw in the Portland-Oklahoma City, first-round series was one who was far below the public perception of what Westbrook is supposed to be. He’s a guy who thinks he can make all the big shots late in games and doesn’t understand that the reason the Trail Blazers were sagging about eight feet off him is that they WANTED him to shoot.

Don't fall for all that triple-double hype -- this guy is more relentless about that stat than he is about winning. He's prickly with not just the media but most people he comes in contact with, doesn't know how to gear his game down when the situation calls for it and, oh yeah -- he can't shoot.

I think this deal also sets up a situation with the starting Houston guards – Westbrook and Harden – fighting over the ball and ending up resenting each other. The only way I see this working is if Westbrook defers to Harden – because Harden isn’t going to defer to Westbrook. Nor should he.

And I don’t think Westbrook will defer to ANYBODY.

I can’t wait to see this in action. And to watch some Harden eyerolls after Westbrook clanks a few jumpers off the rim in the fourth quarter. And how crazy Westbrook is going to get while Harden is pounding the ball at the top of the circle waiting to beat somebody off the dribble.

Mike D'Antoni is going to need the touch of Houdini to make this work.

And that leaves the final question – Will the Thunder buy out Paul’s contract, freeing him to move to one of the superteams? I can’t imagine him being happy in OKC for more than a minute.

But of course, I can’t imagine anyone being happy in OKC.

Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum & Terry Stotts weigh in on the impressive James Harden streak

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USATI

Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum & Terry Stotts weigh in on the impressive James Harden streak

It was probably the biggest story of the first half of the NBA season – Houston’s James Harden and his streak of five straight 40-point games and then, his ongoing run of 31 straight 30-point games.

And the most interesting facet of that 40-point streak was that almost none of his baskets came after an assist from a teammate.

The man was playing one-on-one against the whole league for weeks and making it work:

A while back, we had the opportunity after a practice to talk with Portland Coach Terry Stotts and the Trail Blazers’ two highest scorers, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, about Harden’s streak and the idea of basically doing it with one-on-one play -- virtually monopolizing the ball.

Of course, the Rockets were without injured starters Chris Paul and Clint Capela much of that time, too. And there was the feeling by many that Harden’s heroics were the only way Houston could win.

“It’s an amazing stat,” Stotts said. “To have that many points unassisted is obviously an indication of how they’re playing and how they need to play at this point. And it’s a case of good a player he is and how good of a one-on-one player he is.”

Lillard is a big scorer and appreciates the difficulty of scoring at that level for an extended period of time.

“You’ve got to respect it for what he is doing,” Lillard said. “It takes a great player to accomplish what he is doing. To have 20 points in an NBA game is an accomplishment… but to average over 40 or 30, that is crazy.”

McCollum is a terrific one-on-one player himself and knows how hard it is to carry the burden that Harden has carried.

“That’s a skill,” McCollum said. “That’s a skill to be able to create quality shots, create space. And a unique skill to do it essentially every possession.

“He gets to that spot before anybody else.  You’ve got to be in elite shape to dribble the ball as much as he does, come off screens, play at the top of the lane and still get step-backs. He’s special.”

But what about his teammates? A lot of them are relegated to standing around, watching him go one-on-one.

“Depends on the position you play,” McCollum said with a smile. “It would be tough. You have to be able to shoot, obviously. Be able to go a lot of possessions without touching the ball, because he handles the ball and facilitates – decides who scores and when they score.”

But, says McCollum, there’s another side to the coin.

“You also get one-on-one coverage, you have a lot of opportunities to attack angles and gaps because of the amount of attention he draws. He attracts double-teams and triple-teams. Everybody is always aware of where he’s at on the court.
“There’s positives and negatives to playing with everybody but with anybody, but as an NBA player you can figure it out – figure out how to be productive.”

Stotts approached the question of Harden’s teammates from a coach’s point of view.

“The biggest thing is everybody accepts their role and understands that with Chris Paul out and Capela out, that’s what they have to do to win games,” Stotts said.  “I’m sure they’re fine with it.”

Lillard, a player who takes seriously his role with the Trail Blazers as the one responsible for getting his teammates going, had some concern about Houston’s “other” players.

“The other side of it is the people who are playing with him,” Lillard said. “Those are the people you have to ask. When it’s unassisted, the ball is in his hands all the time. NBA players, you know they want to shoot, they want to have the ball and they want to have a chance. 

“You have to respect what’s he’s doing. You can’t take nothing away from him – especially if his teammates are OK with it and they’re winning games.”

A question that begged to be asked is if there are any other NBA players – given the green light to continually go one-on-one for entire games – who could duplicate Harden’s feats.

“Kevin Durant – for sure,” Lillard said. “If KD played that exact same way I think he’d do the exact same thing.”

McCollum chuckled when asked the question.

“Like that?” he asked. “I think I can score a lot but 50 or 60? You’ve got to be elite. There are guys out there who could be productive, but I don’t know if they could be as good as James Harden. He’s very elite in his own right.

“I think there’s some guys out there who can score a lot of points in that situation.”

What about Durant?

“He could do that on any team …  if he wanted to.” McCollum said.

Stotts took his time with his answer about other players being able to hamdle that load Harden is carrying.

“Umm, there are some great players,” he said. “I’d say probably. I’m not going to name names but there are players out there – I don’t know if they’d be that efficient –- but there are players, maybe a handful of players, who’d like to try to see if they could.”

I think we all could agree with that. How about Durant’s chances?

“Durant?” Stotts said. “I think it would have to be a perimeter player. Durant, Steph -- if he got on a roll -- the thing is to be able to do it every night.

“LeBron is probably in that category. Probably some other guys as well. The thing about what James (Harden) is doing is that he’s doing it every night. It’s not a one-night phenomenon.”

And, as far as the 30-point streak is concerned, it’s still climbing.

Assists on the rise in Rip City

Assists on the rise in Rip City

Ball movement is a beautiful thing in basketball and the Trail Blazers ball movement in Portland’s back-to-back home games looked “pretty good” to quote Blazers head coach Terry Stotts.

After dropping one to the Thunder on Friday night, despite dishing out a season-high 30 assists, Portland followed up Friday’s game with 27 assists in the Blazers 110-101 win over the Houston Rockets.   

Jusuf Nurkic led the charge offensively with 25 points to go along with his 15 rebounds and three assists. Nurkic has now scored 20+ points for the fifth time in the last six games, and for the 12th time overall this season.

“Nurk got us off to a great a start with their switching. I thought our ball movement was pretty good for the most part,” Coach Terry Stotts said postgame.

Saturday’s stat line also marked the Bosnian Beast’s 20th double-double of the season.

“Nurkic has been killing. You know, he’s been a beast for awhile now,” Lillard said. 

MORE NURK, MORE ASSISTS
In the last four games, the Blazers have averaged 26.8 assists, which ranks 8th best in the league over that span. Nurkic has been dominant in each of those contests.

Coincidence? 

It’s hard not to talk about how effective and consistent Nurkic has been, but we also need to talk about how running the offense more through Nurkic in the last few games has helped the Blazers raise those assist numbers.

Damian Lillard recorded his fourth double-double of the season with 17 points and 12 assists, which tied his season-high passing mark.

Lillard previously dished out 12 assists against the Celtics back on November 11th when Portland beat Boston, 100-94. 

The Blazers attributed their recent rise in assists to their smart decision-making, especially in the play of their big man.

“I think, you know, Nurk just making the right plays. You know when the defense shifts over, he’s finding the right guy and sometimes they make a shot. Sometimes he’s getting it to the right person to where the defender has to choose, and they make the next play,” Lillard said.

“I think we’re just being more patient collectively as a unit, playing through Nurk at times throughout the game. Then just movement. You know, we’re moving well without the ball, finding the weak side and some of the teams we’ve played have done a lot of switching, so bigs on littles, littles on bigs, and then there’s just kind of a rotation with the traps:  they trap us a lot of times in pick-and-rolls, so backside is wide open, so that’s leading to a lot of catch-and-shoot threes,” CJ McCollum added.

The Rockets finished with just 13 assists for the game, only one more than Lillard’s game-high 12.

IT ALL STARTS WITH LILLARD
Lillard knows that piling up assists starts first with his decision-making, and then of course, it’s about making shots.

“It starts on the ball, you know, if there’s two people coming to me, I know I’ve got to give it to [Nurkic] and trust him to make the next decision and then it’s his job to do the same thing,” Lillard said.

“You gonna get assists when you making shots… We start making shots and assists gonna pile up. I think I make the same plays pretty much every game as far as pass ahead, hit the roll man, hit the weak side. I make the same plays every game, it’s a matter of if we’re making shots or not,” Lillard said.  

This recognition of ball movement, especially when traps are being run at Lillard, is likely to be a key component if the Trail Blazers want to contend for a first-round playoff series win. The Pelicans exposed the Blazers last postseason by Blitzing Lillard and McCollum with regularity which halted the Blazers' offense, resulting in the sweep.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT D

It needs to be noted that besides the team’s assists, the team’s defense was also key in Saturday’s win.

Evan Turner got the start in place of the injured Maurice Harkless he sat out the second night of a back-to-back, resting his left knee.

Turner also got the nod to defend “The Beard” James Harden.

Harden hit his first three-pointer of the game at the 10:38 mark of the third quarter and after scoring 40 points in each of his last 5 games, Portland held Harden to 38 on 13-35 shooting.   When asked about his defensive assignment, Turner said:


“ (I) had to be aggressive and limit what (Harden) liked to do. He’s been on a hell of a run and obviously he’s the head of the snake so I just tried to pick him up and wear him down, tire him down and not get any cheap fouls."


Harden had seven of the Rockets 12 assists.  But he also coughed up seven turnovers.

ROOM TO GROW
Back to the Blazers’ assists for a moment.

Nurkic feels that there are more ways than just the pick-and-roll that Portland is recording assists.

“I think it’s both ways, some from the post, some from the pick-and-roll and some from the movement stuff, but I think it could go either way,” Nurkic said.

The Blazers have some to work to do to get their overall assist average up. Portland is averaging 21.5 assists, which puts them fourth worst in the league right now.   

But, the Trail Blazers trust is on the rise, especially in their starting center: “They really trust in me. Throw me the ball and they said take your time and go to work,” Nurkic said.

That’s all you need to hear.

Now sit back and watch those assists continue to rise.

A different breed: How the Trail Blazers held James Harden to 'only' 38 points

A different breed: How the Trail Blazers held James Harden to 'only' 38 points

It’s very rare in basketball that you can talk about playing terrific defense against a player who scored 38 points.

But James Harden is a different breed. The Houston guard is being hailed among the great offensive players in NBA history (not by me, by the way) and the Trail Blazers held him to 38, shutting down his streak of five consecutive 40-point games. And it helped the Trail Blazers post a 110-101 win over the Rockets in Moda Center. The victory gave Portland the season series over Houston for the first season since 2014-15.

And seriously, holding a player to 38 points when he’s getting 35 shots, including 17 three-point shots and seven free throws, is an achievement.

Credit Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu for the defensive job.

Turner, who had Harden most of the time, said he, “Had to be aggressive and limit what (Harden) liked to do. He’s been on a hell of a run and obviously he’s the head of the snake so I just tried to pick him up and wear him down, tire him down and not get any cheap fouls.

“I wanted to contest his shots and not get any cheap fouls contesting his shots.

“I don’t know how to say it. It doesn’t make any damn sense – I get to the line 20 times in a month and he might go to the line 20 times in two hours.

“His feel for the game is unreal. You just have to play cat and mouse with him.”

Harden needed 35 shots to get his 38 points.

“I’d take that,” Turner said. “Chief, wouldn’t you take that? 13 for 35 and 38 points?”

Aminu (“Chief”) assured Turner he’t take it, too.

“You have to be locked in every play because the ball is in his hands so much,” Aminu said,. “It’s fun, though. He’s going to go at you one-on-one and in the pick and roll. You get to test yourself, defensively, to see where you stack up.”

Harden is one of the great tricksters in the game – goading defenders into reaching in on his shot, getting them to foul him on his jumper and tricking the referees into putting him on the foul line, whether he deserves it or not.

“He’s able to trick the refs sometimes,” Aminu said. “That’s part of the game. You’ve got to tip your hat to him. I thought we did a great job on him tonight. I tip my hat to ET and myself and really everybody.”

Reminded that Harden needed 35 shots to get his points, Aminu nodded his head.

“I feel like sometimes that gets overlooked,” he said. “This was a great defensive game against Harden and it should be commended as such.”

Asked if he ever got 35 shots in a game, Aminu thought about it for a few seconds and said that, yes, he did once.

“In a summer game,” he said. “Not the (NBA) summer league but a summer pro-am league.”

Coach Terry Stotts shook his head, smiled, and said, “Well, we held him under 40 so I guess that’s a win.”

But seriously, though…

“I thought Evan and Chief and other people obviously were switched on (Harden) – I thought they didn’t fall for many tricks. They were locked in, they didn’t reach, they contested.

"Obviously, he got it going in the third quarter but we didn’t get rattled. I thought they both took a lot of pride in the challenge that they had.”

Harden said, “We gave away offensive rebounds and we didn’t get on transition enough. And give them credit, they’re a good team, especially at home.”

The Trail Blazers got 25 points from Jusuf Nurkic, 24 from CJ McCollum and 17 from Damian Lillard. And they took care of a lot of the little things you need to beat good teams. Portland had a 54-44 edge in points in the paint, 21-7 advantage in second-chance points and a 14-7 margin in fast-break points. The Blazers also owned a seven-rebound edge on the offensive boards.

Harden, by the way, should have had his 40-point game. He missed a driving layup with 4.9 seconds to that would have done it.

 

Measuring stick games for the Trail Blazers?

Measuring stick games for the Trail Blazers?

The good news is that the Trail Blazers won’t have to sit with Friday night’s loss for very long.

Less than 24 hours after slinking out of the Moda Center following a 111-109 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Blazers will be back on their home floor with a quick chance for redemption.

The bad news is that it doesn’t get much easier.

Paul George, a mid-season MVP candidate, got going early on Friday and for three quarters he was the best player on the court, finishing with 37 points and eight rebounds. The Blazers sent a combination of Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Evan Turner at George and it barely mattered, as the Thunder star alternated between calmly draining jumpers or working angles to draw free throws.

Russell Westbrook, a once MVP turned super-charged second fiddle, punished the Blazers down the stretch and helped Oklahoma City close out its first win in Portland since 2014.

Yet somehow despite the George’s dominance and Westbrook’s gaudy stat line (31 points, nine rebounds and seven assists) the Blazers had two shots to tie the game in the final minute.

“With everything that happened and how hard we made it for ourselves we still had an opportunity at the end of the game,” Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. “Just didn’t come out on the right side of it.”

The Blazers couldn’t slow the Thunder’s two stars, and their next MVP caliber challenge comes Saturday in the form of the hottest player in the NBA. Houston Rockets’ guard James Harden is averaging 41.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 9.5 assists over his last 11 games. During that stretch, Houston has gone 10-1 and climbed from 14th to fourth in the West.

“They’re playing really well,” Lillard said of Houston. “James is playing at an all-time, historic level. It’s a challenge that we’re going to have to accept. We’ve won on their floor, they beat us the last time we played them and tomorrow we’re going to have to come out and take the challenge. We dropped one tonight so tomorrow is big for us.”

Before the game Friday, Blazers coach Terry Stotts pushed back against the idea that the back-to-back games against Oklahoma City and Houston could serve as a barometer for where Portland stands in the West’s hierarchy. Even if these games aren’t measuring sticks, they still serve as reminders of the margin for error in the star studded West.

The Blazers played well enough to have a chance against a top tier team, but came up short while never really finding an answer for two All-Star caliber players. Saturday’s game presents a similar challenge with a singular star and another chance against an elite team.

'Tomorrow is big for us' -- No time to rest as Trail Blazers take lessons learned into game vs. Houston Rockets

'Tomorrow is big for us' -- No time to rest as Trail Blazers take lessons learned into game vs. Houston Rockets

This particular weekend of games has been circled on calendars for a while now.

Knowing Portland had to face MVP candidates in Russell Westbrook/Paul George followed by James Harden is obviously not an easy task, let alone on the same weekend of back-to-back home games.

But, the Trail Blazers looked up for the task early in Friday night’s game against the Thunder.

ASSIST CITY

Portland led 62-57 at the break in big part because of the Blazers’ ball movement as they dished out a season high 18 first half assists but would ultimately lose the game 111-109.

Evan Turner led the charge with finding his teammates with a season-high nine assists in the loss and the Blazers ended up with a new season-high in assists with 30 for the game.

“Guys were moving. I think one thing too- we got a lot in transition, which meant we got stops… Anytime the ball flies around you be a dangerous team and you wear down the other team… You gotta make the right pass and guys gotta get open cuts and make the shots,” Turner said. 

A big reason for so many assist was the pick and roll between Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic got out to an aggressive start once again and scored 12 points in the first quarter as the Blazers were clicking on offense early.

Nurkic agreed there were several good aspects of the game especially in the first half, but it’s tough to think about that when you walk away with an ‘L.’

“We did a lot of good things, like I said, right now it looks like we didn’t. I thought we played with a great pace, and flow, execute real well,” Nurkic said.    

NEW LOOK ROTATION

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts went with a little different looking rotation against the Thunder with Jake Layman getting minutes on the wing off the bench over Nik Stauskas.

In Layman’s first stint he went 4-for-5 and 1-for-1 from three to score nine points in his first five minutes of action. 

“I think my mindset is always to go in there an be aggressive no matter what point in the game it is. Just stay ready and be aggressive,” Layman said.

Layman finished with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting to score double-figures for the fourth time this season.

Keep an eye on Coach Stotts' bench rotation as he continues to tinker with different lineups as the Blazers progress through this five-game homestand. A hot hand off the bench has often been just the spark the Blazers need for a win, but it rarely seems to come from a consistent source. 

Expect Houston to employ their switching defense, which could alter Stotts' rotation once again. 

WHAT WENT WRONG?

With Layman having an efficient shooting night and the Blazers sharing the ball so well, what went wrong for the Blazers?

Too many bad stretches.

“We had good momentum for most of the game… The turnovers weren’t bad, but we had them in bunches and their offensive rebounds were pretty much in control, but they got them in bunches and those runs effected us and allowed them to have the lead,” Stotts said.

“One thing coach mentioned after the game was we just kind of went through some bad stretches, whether that was two or three offensive rebounds in five minutes or a little group of turnovers, or whatever defensive mistakes—you know, two, three, four back-to-back,” Leonard said.

Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for a 33 points and 13 assists in the loss. McCollum would like to continue to see the ball movement in Saturday’s game vs. Houston.

“I thought we just moved, took advantage of whatever they gave us. They load up, they make it difficult on you to score first side of the court and we just tried to make the right passes whether that be to the roll man or the place man and guys made shots,” McCollum said.

But, Lillard and McCollum had five of the Blazers’ 12 turnovers, which led to 15 Thunder points.

SPIN IT FORWARD TO THE ROCKETS

There are of course a couple of aspects of Friday’s loss that McCollum knows is going to need to change before Saturday.

“The ball movement was good. I think when we needed stops we got them down the stretch, so we just gotta have that sense of urgency earlier, making sure we getting to the net, making sure we’re preventing some of those tip-ins and those tip-outs from the bigs… It’s hard enough to get one stop, so we gotta make sure try to eliminate those second and third chances,” McCollum added.   

And now with the Blazers turning right back around to face James Harden and the Houston Rockets, Lillard knows how important of a game it will be on Saturday after already losing to one of the top Western Conferences teams the night before.

“They’re playing really well. James is playing at an all-time, historic level. It’s a challenge were gonna have to accept. We won on their floor. They beat us the last time we played them. Tomorrow we’re gonna have to take the challenge. We dropped one tonight, so tomorrow’s big for us,” Llillard said.

Physical game vs. Houston Rockets leaves Damian Lillard holding his shoulder and scratching his head

Physical game vs. Houston Rockets leaves Damian Lillard holding his shoulder and scratching his head

Every NBA season, MVP caliber players add a new wrinkle to their game. This 2017-18 season, Damian Lillard has made it a point to take the ball hard to the rim and in turn, make it to the free throw line more often than in years past.  

But even though, there has been so much talk about Lillard continuing to raise his game and his name being thrown into the MVP conversation, he doesn’t seem to be getting the MVP like treatment on fouls called.  

“I thought there was a lot of contact out there. I was on the refs… I was literally asking them questions, you know, ‘how is that not a foul’ and they explained what they thought and that was it,” Lillard told reporters postgame.

There was one drive in particular in Tuesday’s 111-103 loss to the Rockets that had Blazers fans holding their breath and Lillard holding his shoulder.

 

Lillard remembered the play vividly that had him and Rockets backup center Nene tangled up after Lillard drove to the basket with 3:29 left in the first quarter.

“I went to the rim, missed a shot, but I saw that it was going to be short and I jumped up to try to like tip the ball and Nene reached for the ball with two hands and when I had my hand kind of barely on it, he just kind of ripped through my arm. Like he tried to rip the ball away… And basically my arm ended up getting bent back a little bit to the side and it just aggravated the back of my shoulder,” Lillard described the play to NBC Sports Northwest reporter Peter Socotch.

Not only was Lillard holding his left shoulder, but he was also scratching is head after there was no foul called.

The Blazers called timeout immediately after the play and as Lillard walked back to the bench to be attended to by the team trainer, Lillard made sure to talk to the referee.

“I got in there to score… I play the game to score. I’m not trying to sell this or sell that, you know, but I thought it was a lot of contact,” Lillard said.

Lillard stayed in the game and the shoulder did not seem to have any ill effects on his performance. He finished with 34 points on 12-of-25 shooting, including 4-of-7 from three and 6-of-7 from the free throw line. It was also a night, where Lillard surpassed Terry Porter on the All-Time Free Throws Made list. Lillard is now second in franchise history in FTs made, ending the game with a total of 2,560.

In the locker room postgame, LIllard did not seem worried that this could have any lingering effects.

“As the game went on, it was just like tightening up, getting a little sore, but it was nothing that I was concerned about,” Lillard said.        

This type of physical game can take a toll on any point guard around the league, but specifically a point guard that is averaging 35.2 minutes per game, like Lillard was entering Tuesday’s game.

“It’s hard when you’ve got teams trying to trap you… They’re being physical and they’re not being penalized for it all the time so they get a little more physical. That’s the kind of game it was,” Lillard said.

Lillard is averaging 7.4 free throw attempts so far this season and shooting 89.6% at the line through the first 27 games. For his career he averages 5.8 attempts.  

Letting players play the game without a whistle to pause play makes it a more entertaining game and playing through contact is just part of the game. But, not getting a foul call is not the biggest concern – just like Lillard had mentioned after Tuesday’s loss, it’s about making sure to not get injured if opponents start thinking they can get away with fouls.

Portland can’t afford to lose its All-Star point guard to an injury.

The good news? Fans have seen this before. Lillard goes down, he gets back up, and he plays on. 

The bad news? This won't be the last time he runs into a physical team.