Way too much Howard, Harden for Blazers
A night after being embarrassed in a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Houston Rockets resolved things would be different Tuesday night at the Moda Center.
The game plan was simple. Work an inside-outside game with Dwight Howard and James Harden and play much better defense than in the 137-118 loss to the Clippers.
It worked to a "T." Howard and Harden combined for 62 points and the Rockets made it tough for the Trail Blazers at the other end in a 116-101 victory.
"We have to do that every night," said the 6-11 Howard, who made 10 of 13 shots from the field and 9 of 12 from the foul line in 38 brilliant minutes. "We had an inside-out attack that's tough for (opponents) to guard. When we have guys who are playing downhill --- James, Chandler (Parsons), Jeremy (Lin) -- and attacking the basket, it puts pressure on the defense. When we play inside-out like that, it make (the opponent) work."
The Rockets (4-1), playing their fourth game in five nights, shot .547 from the field, ruled the backboards 47-30 and won the points-in-the-paint battle 54-28.
"They're a good team," said Damian Lillard, who led Portland (2-2) with 22 points but was only 7 for 17 from the field and 4 for 7 from the line. "It was our job to make sure they had another night like (Monday) night, but a lot of the shots that didn't fall for them (Monday) night fell tonight."
Portland, which hadn't played since its 115-105 win over San Antonio here Saturday night, was sub-par in all three shooting departments, going .414 from the field, .323 from 3-point range and .655 from the foul line.
"We had a hard time getting shots to fall," said Lillard, who wound up with a mouse under his right eye courtesy of a Harden elbow. "When that happens, you have to do a better job defensively. (The Rockets) made some tough shots, but we also made some mistakes at times.
"It was just a bad rhythm night for us offensively, and we didn't play good enough defense to cover up for it."
Howard spent part of the night defending Aldridge, who finished 9 for 19 from the field and 3 for 5 from the line. The Blazers' All-Star forward had five rebounds in 36 minutes.
"LaMarcus came into the game shooting 53 percent," Howard said. "A lot of jump shots. I tried to do anything I could to make them tough shots. He hit some. That's what we were expecting.
"We have to clean up some of the pick-and-rolls, but we did a pretty good job with him and Lillard. Those guys are two terrific scorers. It was good to hold them down a little bit. When I came here last year (with the Lakers), Lillard had a big game. We did a great job controlling him tonight."
Portland had more trouble on the defensive end with the Rockets.
"They're a talented team," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "Give them credit for the way they played. Harden made tough shots and Howard finished around the basket and made his free throws.
"They're the type of team that puts points up quickly. We did a decent job of staying within striking distance. On a night we didn't shoot the ball well, it was difficult to catch them. We could never quite get over the hump."
Houston is on the short list of championship contenders this season primarily due to the presence of Howard and Harden.
"Dwight might be the best center, and without Kobe (Bryant), James is the best shooting guard in the league right now," said Portland's Nicolas Batum, who had 13 points, three rebounds, four assists and three steals in 37 minutes.
"They might be the best twosome on any team in the league," said the Blazers' Wesley Matthews, who scored 19 points.
Portland led by nine points early and held a 31-30 lead after one quarter. The Blazers trailed 55-50 at the half, then scored two points on 1-for-10 shooting in the first six minutes of the third quarter to fall behind 70-52. They fought back to within five points with eight minutes left, but could get no closer.
"We passed up a lot of shots in the third quarter," Matthews said. "Maybe we were a little too unselfish. Plays were made and we're supposed to shoot it. I know I turned down some. And we didn't make many stops at the other end."
The offense wasn't good, but defense is where the Blazers will focus after Tuesday's game, particularly in the interior.
"We defended the '3' pretty well (Houston was 6 for 22), but we have to do a better job protecting the rim," Stotts said.
"That's a good team, but we didn't play a good game, especially on defense," Batum said. "We have to correct some things."
"We have to take it more personal," Aldridge said. "We have to defend the pick-and-roll better. We have to be there earlier.
"We came back and made it a game, but there are no moral victories. Tonight was one of those games we didn't play well offensively, so we have to be better defensively. Our offense affected our defense tonight."
NOTES: Portland's next action is at home Friday night against Sacramento. Portland centers Robin Lopez and Meyers Leonard combined for six points and eight fouls in 32 minutes. The Blazers were without reserve center/forward Joel Freeland, who aggravated a hip injury in Saturday's win over San Antonio. That moved Leonard, who had played one minute in Portland's first three games, into a spot in the rotation. Leonard had six points, making 2 of 3 from the field and 2 of 2 from the line, and two rebounds in 14 minutes. "He competed," Stotts said. Portland reserves Mo Williams (4 for 12, eight points, seven assists) and Dorell Wright (3 for 8, eight points) struggled with their shots. Wright sank his first two shots, both 3s late in the first quarter, then went 1 for 6 the rest of the way. Houston won the battle in fast-break points 19-6.