The Portland Trail Blazers (20-27, 10th in West) hosted the Houston Rockets (29-17, 5th in West) at the Moda Center Wednesday night. The Blazers defeated the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night behind another stunning performance from Damian Lillard. Portland’s eight-year point guard earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors last week for his insane performances against the Warriors, Mavericks, and Pacers.
|Date||Points||FGs||3s||FTs||Assists||Rebounds||Result vs. Opponent|
|Mon. 1/20/20||61||17/37||11/20||16/16||7||10||W 129-124 vs GSW|
|Thurs. 1/23/20||47||16/28||8/15||7/7||8||6||L 125-133 vs DAL|
|Sun. 1/26/20||50||14/23||8/12||14/16||13||6||W 139-129 vs IND|
Dame has one of the highest ceilings in the league, and it would be especially exciting to see him have another gargantuan night against his greatest nemesis, Russell Westbrook.
The last time Russ played in Portland, he posted a solid night of 29pts, 14ast, and 11reb. He was as braggadocios as ever and, ironically, it took a 50-point performance and a bad shot by Dame to shut him up.
But it’s a new season now. Westbrook is on a new team, and that team’s been doing pretty well. The Rockets are currently fifth in the Western Conference and have won three of their last four, with the only blemish coming to the Nuggets on the road. They had a big win against the Utah Jazz last night—without Russ, MVP candidate James Harden, or starting center Clint Capela—in which Eric Gordon (of all people) scored 50 points.
I’m excited for this matchup. The Rockets have become one of Portland’s biggest rivals in the past few years. Adding Westbrook to that mix only strengthens mutual hate. Both teams are at an odd crossroads in their seasons, with Dame looking to turn things around for the Blazers and Houston trying to regain their footing in the Playoff standings.
Harden has been inactive for the past two games with a left thigh contusion, and he is still questionable tonight. So is Capela. Nene and Gerald Green are both out for the Rockets.
Westbrook’s absence from the Jazz game was due to rest, so he’ll be fully available tonight.
Well, I heard Dave Pasch’s voice and was hoping for Bill Walton to be on the call, but I guess I’ll settle for the second-most over-hated announcer in basketball—Doris Burke.
Whiteside had a pair of disappointingly low-effort plays, letting an Eric Gordon brick bounce in front of him and allowing the ball to be stripped from behind on a simple screen on the other end, gifting Houston four points.
Portland’s offense was depressing in the early going. The Blazers had more turnovers than points in the first few minutes.
Westbrook is pissed tonight. He made one shot on Lillard, rocked the baby, and got a couple big blocks early. The jaw-ing continued as he mounted a couple assists and Dame heaved a rare bricked thirty-footer. Lillard came down the court and scored a hard-earned and-one two possessions later, muttering what we can assume were some choice words for Westbrook as he flexed.
Harden and Lillard swapped signature splashes, but Ben McLemore led all scorers near the end of the first, with 12 points from four buckets. Then Dame hit two straight threes, lifting his total to 16.
Portland fought hard in the first quarter, but Houston’s 60% from three gave them a six-point advantage at the end of the first.
The quarter began with Portland milking the Melo-on-Gordon matchup in the post, earning five points from it on three possessions. A couple possessions later, Carmelo moved up to 17th on the all-time scoring list, passing Kevin Garnett.
Westbrook was working Nassir Little while CJ upped his usage on the other end. The Blazers cut the lead to 2 at the 7:06 mark, but Ariza committed an odd technical almost immediately after.
Dame checked back in as the Rockets started to cool off. Gary Trent Jr. hit his second three to give Portland a four-point lead with 5:23 remaining.
It would be great if Trent can continue to stretch the floor going forward this season, because he gets a ton of open looks with any combination of Dame, Melo, and CJ on the court. Dare I say, the Blazers look like a team to be reckoned with when they can hold their own on defense, and the return of three injured big men can’t be overlooked as we stretch for the playoffs.
Dame took over on offense. As Burke noted, he had two great assists sandwiching a trailing three after a steal from Trent on Harden. Blazers 60, Rockets 51 at the 4-minute mark in the 2nd. Lillard with 21 on 7/9.
Westbrook had a notable push-off against Gary Trent that was called a defensive foul, but Stotts’ challenge overturned this to make it an offensive foul against Russ.
Whiteside had a pair of great blocks on Westbrook, but Houston finally hit a three after going nearly four minutes without a field goal. Portland continued to leave the far corner open on defense to double Harden, but Lillard continued to drive past Harden on defense.
A pair of dunks put the Blazers up to 71 points with an 11-point lead at the half. Portland entered the break shooting 55.6% from the field and 14/18 from the free throw line, compared to Houston’s 48% and 1/3 from the line.
Westbrook accumulated a quiet 19pts/4ast/5reb and Lillard had a loud 25/5/5. Both teams had eight turnovers.
The second half admitted itself in an odd fashion. Both teams committed multiple bonehead turnovers and missed point-blank shots. PJ Tucker got called for a technical foul, Dame missed the free throw, and Capela lost a shoe. The Rockets were the first to recover, but Ariza struck back to preserve the 11-point cushion.
Whiteside made great plays on both ends, swatting his sixth and seventh blocks and picking up a loose ball to score two more. Dame’s skip pass into a CJ three extended the lead to 83-67 with 5:49 left in the quarter.
HUSTLE PLAY ALERT: Dame crossed up his defender and himself, losing the ball. Carmelo got dirty and dug it out to Ariza, who buried the open three.
The Blazers made more high-effort plays, but the Rockets were also blowing layups and taking poor shots.
All this was largely without Lillard’s scoring, as he didn’t earn his first points of the 3rd until there were less than two minutes left. He then followed that fadeaway with a pull-up closer to half-court than the three-point arc. Fittingly, Westbrook bricked his own pull-up as the quarter expired. Blazers 97, Rockets 82.
That being said, Houston’s supporting cast hit a few big shots to keep them within shouting distance. If the Rockets succeed in the playoffs, it’ll be because of guys like Austin Rivers, Danuel House Jr., or Ben McLemore stepping up.
The game got pretty chippy to open up the 4th, but the Blazers nurtured their lead to 20.
Westbrook got angry after a foul request was ignored. Sometimes that’s a good thing for the opponent, but in this case he broke free for a swift transition layup and a neat assist to Rivers.
Dame put the game away from the logo with six minutes left. He also assisted Whiteside for a pair of and-ones. Harden, Westbrook, and Mike D’Antoni were still fighting for fouls and points, but all it did was keep me up even later into the Eastern time zone night.
- Lillard: 36p/11a/10r/6to (first career triple-double!) on 11/21 FG, 6/12 3s, 8/10 FTs
- McCollum: 22p on 9/19 FG, 3/7 FTs
- Whiteside: 28min/15p/10r/5b on 6/9 FG
- Ariza: 21p on 9/14 FG
- Melo: 6p/5a/13r on 2/11 FG
- Nassir Little: 10p/2orb on 4/5 FG
- Harden: 18p/4a/5r/6to on 5/18 FG
- Russ: 39p/6a/10r/6to on 16/29 FG
- Ben McLemore: 17p on 6/10 FG, 5/9 3s
- Austin Rivers: 17p on 6/11 FG, 5/8 3s
The Blazers look legit, at least on offense. Dame’s “off” scoring night came with some great decision-making when faced with double-teams. This team is far from playoff-ready, but they’re definitely speeding up with Dame doing his best at the wheel.
Harden looked a bit rusty (he even air-balled a layup in the final minute), but he’s still always a threat. Terry Stotts orchestrated another defensive masterclass against The Beard, with the Blazers mixing up looks and recovering well from double-teams.
With two leaders like Lillard and Stotts, pieces just fit together better. Perfect example: earlier today, Melo talked about how he’d “love to stay” in Portland for the rest of his career. I’m not ready to give this team a playoff spot yet (especially with the way Memphis is playing) but they certainly aren’t ready to give up, and the cavalry is still yet to come.