LA: Disappointed, But Will Come Back Strong
HOUSTON – Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers dropped a game that might have had potential playoff implications written all over it.
The Trail Blazers were 2-0 versus the Rockets coming into tonight's game and a win could have gave the Trail Blazers the tie breaker if it came to that towards the end of the season.
The Rockets (28-24) held a one-game lead over the Trail Blazers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings and tonight they increased it to two games with a decisive, James Harden-led 118-102 victory at the Toyota Center.
Harden played as well as any player could play going for 35 points on 13-for-16 shooting, seven rebounds and 11 assists. At the half, he had 20 points on 8-for-8 from the field and distributed eight assists. Harden's first miss came at the 4:31 mark in the third quarter.
“He had a good game,” Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews said. “He had it going tonight.”
But it wasn't just Harden going off, it was his entire team scorching the net on their way to shooting 60 percent from the field and 46 percent from long distance.
At halftime, the Rockets led 62-53. The Rockets' 62 first half points was tied for the most points scored against the Trail Blazers (25-25) this season.
“They played well,” Nicolas Batum said after scoring 24 points on which 22 came in the second half. “We could have played much better but you have to give them credit for what they did tonight.”
The Rockets played small ball for the most part, spreading the court with shooters so that Harden and Jeremy Lin could operate on the perimeter as they led by as many as 20 points. It was one of those nights where everything was going in for the Rockets, similar to their 23 threes made against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night that tied an NBA record and set a franchise record.
Even though the Rockets seem to be in the zone right now, Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts says they could have done a better job defensively.
“We probably could have contested them better,” Stotts said. “They had a lot of shots, but when they spread the court like they do and penetrate and find and move the ball well, they're hard to guard.”
He later added, “When teams shoot 60 percent, you can always contest a little bit better and do things better defensively.”
The Trail Blazers now find themselves in a 1-2 hole on this six-game trip, but there's no cause for alarm. They're still as confident as they were before this trip began knowing that it is a marathon and not a race.
“We're fine. We're not worried,” Matthews said. “We got three games left and you want to be above .500 on any road trip and we still have an opportunity to do that.”
Lillard echoed those sentiments.
“There's no panic,” he said. “There's no reason to be. We got to win the next game and that's it.”
To understand why the Trail Blazers are so calm at this moment in time, all you have to do is look at their schedule and see how they have consistently overcome adversity.
When they rode a four game losing streak earlier in the season, they bounced back to win three of their next four. In late November that four-game skid returned and they countered it winning seven of their next nine.
And most recently their longest losing streak of the season occurred in January extending to six games. It shouldn't surprise you by now, they ended up taking five of their next seven.
Not to mention all the amazing comebacks this team has orchestrated. That's why there's no panic with this team.
“We had a chance to win both of these games,” Aldridge said referring to the loss in Dallas as well. “I think we just got to stick with the things we do well and just do it longer. We can't panic. There's a lot of games left.”
Aldridge gave it all he had pouring in 31 points and 11 rebounds. That's seven consecutive double-doubles, the longest stretch during his NBA career. Lillard scored nine of his 18 points in the second quarter and finished with six assists. JJ Hickson put in 12 points and pulled down six boards.
The Trail Blazers still lead this season series 2-1 and will meet the Rockets in Portland for the final time this season on April 5. The Trail Blazers next game is Sunday in Orlando.