The Houston Rockets didn’t need any help from Jeremy Lin as they got back to winning with a 116-101 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, which was mostly about James Harden and Dwight Howard abusing their opponents by taking advantage of a weak defense and an even worse or non existent inside presence.
The Blazers can be a fun team to watch when they play their small ball, but it doesn’t really help when your best player is smothered by Dwight Howard and your center can’t really get any rhythm going due to foul trouble.
Dwight Howard was at his most dominant with 29 points and 13 rebounds, but it was his defense and presence that was most impressive. He got Robin Lopez out of the game to take away the Blazers’ only presence in the paint, and surprised everyone by hitting 9-of-12 from the line. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times and shot only 27.3% from beyond the arc which is completely unlike them, but they had no problem getting to the line (28-of-34) through Howard and Harden.
James Harden led the team scoring 31 points. It was either with long 2’s that he did his damage or by driving to the paint, putting five fouls on Wesley Matthews and hitting 9-of-10 from the line. In a game of runs, the Rockets simply had less of a problem getting into the paint and score easy points (54) compared to the Blazers, having to settle for jumpers and finding it very difficult when Dwight Howard was on the floor.
Jeremy Lin played a small part in all of that. He scored 12 points, playing 29 minutes. Patrick Beverley is back, coming off the bench for now, and had the same impact on the game, but it might not be too long before he recaptures his place in the starting lineup. In Kevin McHale’s system which allows James Harden to do everything he wants to on both ends of the floor (which includes taking possessions off on defense), Lin’s talents might come to better use with less minutes next to Harden.
Harden turned the ball over 8 times, and yet the thought of giving up the ball for someone else to be the point guard doesn’t seem to cross his or his coach’s mind. How far this kind of way of thinking will take them is hard to envision, as it limits the Rockets when they face a team that makes life a bit harder on the perimeter. Harden is averaging 4.4 turnovers per game while shooting 26.5% from beyond the arc, which isn’t stopping him from taking 6.8 three-pointers per game.
From the bench, Omri Casspi continues to do a good job although like for others, the three pointers didn’t drop for him. He scored 7 points, adding 8 rebounds and 5 assists, continuing to be one of the more pleasant small surprises this season in the entire league.
Dwight makes the whole game so much easier for each teammate. He draws double-teams. He’s a great passer. He dominates the post and he can score it. He does everything.