Even on a special night from James Harden, the Houston Rockets didn’t have enough to slow down the excellent Portland Trail Blazers with an efficient Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge leading the way to a 109-98 win.
Harden scored 45 points, but aside from 16 by Josh Smith off the bench, it felt if he was completely alone. He did add 8 assists and also 9 rebounds, but on a bad shooting night from almost everyone as they have to make up for the absence of Dwight Howard, even an MVP-like performance from someone who is possibly the leading candidate at the moment wasn’t enough for a close game, as Harden got almost half of his points (19-of-23) from the line.
Meanwhile, the Blazers played like a team and not a one man show. Lillard seems to be boosted by the news of an All-Star spot becoming available for him, scoring 23 points in celebration. Aldridge finished with 24 points in another successful offensive night for one of the more productive and consistent duos in the league, getting a lot more help from the peripheral players than in the past.
Like who? Robin Lopez scored 14 points, possibly encouraged with another mock fight with an opponent’s mascot. Meyers Leonard scored 12 points off the bench, and C.J. McCollum had the rare occurrence of scoring 12 points for the second time in three games. Maybe there’s some hope for the two of them yet.
Overall, the Rockets haven’t done that badly since Howard went down and will be out for six more weeks. They are 6-2 in that span and seem to always find ways to make up for injuries despite a pretty short roster. But without guys like Corey Brewer, Trevor Ariza and Jason Terry making it easier for Harden with their ability to hit open shots which Harden even on bad days can create for teammates, it’s going to be rough hanging on to their current position without their starting center.
The Blazers didn’t teach us anything new in this game except for maybe the chance of some of their bench players becoming more trustworthy go-to guys in the playoffs. After all, all this improvement and development isn’t going to be worth a lot if it comes down to a 7-man rotation once again. Yes, the Blazers can take that and at least make it into the conference semifinals, but they’re expecting more after reaching that level last season.