It’s tough to be too displeased with this loss. The Blazers marched into one of “those” buildings they tend to struggle in, fought for a lead, fell way behind and still managed to make it a game decided on a handful of possessions. I know I’m getting repetitive from past posts, but given the roster, you now just have another reason to admire this team for going Col. Custer rather than…20th Century France (with apologies to all our French readers). It might not be a moral victory, but at least it’s a mild success.
You have to hand it to the Rockets. For a team that’s stuck in the middle of the pack in defensive rating, they are still capable of some of the best stretches of defense of any team in the league when they hunker down and get to it. The Blazers don’t really have the talent on the floor to keep teams second guessing their offense, but after re-watching a couple earlier possessions, the Rockets were often rotating to the open man faster than the ball could get there. It was like watching a high school team run the shell drill, with the varsity playing D and the freshman team told to rotate the ball in order around the three-point line without dribbling. Better yet — or worse yet for Portland — Houston swallowed up many players that even attempted to poke around in the lane, and as a result the Blazers only had 19 attempts within 10 feet all night.
The Blazers had the opposite effect with their defense. Though a couple loose balls didn’t go Portland’s way, the Rockets committed points-in-the-paintular manslaughter. Carl Landry and Luis Scola had their way inside just by positioning themselves well to take advantage of some Portland gambling in the passing lanes, and Aaron Brooks ran the old Potomac Two-Step on his way to 33 points. No Blazer point guard could come close to staying in front of him and he burned Portland’s help rotations whether the stepped up on him or hung back on their marks.
And yet the Blazers were in it for reasons mostly tied to a solid assist rate (24.5), the Rockets obliterating themselves with 14 misses at the free-throw line (out of 43!) and . . . some timely threes I suppose. There were plenty of things to get irked about, but mostly you just have to shrug your shoulders at another bad matchup and nod your head that it wasn’t a blowout.
LaMarcus Aldridge faced a lot of the same looks and double teams the Jazz effectively threw at him the night before, except he made quicker decisions, reacting to the defense quicker and getting the ball rolling around the perimeter. The four blocks were impressive but I can’t say it was from him being more active than usual, just that he was playing against the team which gets the second-most shots blocked on average.
This was one of Rudy Fernandez’ better games of the season, though eight of those 25 points came when the Blazers were playing the foul-timeout-three game in the final minute. It was wonderful watching him out-maneuver Houston’s defenders going around those picks, and equally awful watching him play with the ball and struggle (and fail) to get around Luis Scola. I have to admit I’m going through a expectation readjustment with Rudy at the moment, having expected him to be a little more of a driver-creator-cutter than he’s been. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that he was absolutely everywhere on the court and was mostly fantastic.
Steve Blake hit a couple crucial shots when the Blazers were bogged down on offense and also got torched, blazed, razed and fumigated by Aaron Brooks. Some of the shots he was hitting were a tad out of his normal comfort zone, however, and his performance dipped as the Blazers needed him to do more with Andre Miller being wholly ineffective. Credit him for the highest assist rate on the team, which at first glance was easy to gloss over.
Houston showed that when you really closeout Webster on the arc, he’s not going to be able to do a whole lot in half-court sets without post guys spacing the floor. He’s not a consistent enough off the dribble to take advantage of the few over-rotations from the Rockets and since he wasn’t hitting his — mostly contested — shots (1-of-7), he only played 21 minutes.
Andre Miller had an almost identical night to Webster — 1-of-6, 20 minutes, two points — but didn’t play well for complete opposite reasons. The Rockets didn’t respect him on the perimeter and packed the lane. That Miller has looked a little worn down the last week didn’t help.
How many ways are there to say that Juwan Howard was Juwan Howard? The Rockets are vulnerable to big men that are bigger or more athletic, but not so much to guys that are relying more on wits and fundamentals.
Nic Batum-tum-tum, someone probably wants you in their room. Did anyone expect him to look this good, this early. 12 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists in 28 minutes while moving well off the ball and creating some off the dribble while committing just one turnover. All game I was wondering how long it would take for someone to start the “Batum for Starter” train, and sure enough Ben Golliver got it going before the clock struck 12 on the east coast. Legit question: If you could get them both at the same contract, would you rather have Batum, Battier or Ariza?
The Blazers needed more from Jerryd Bayless than 11 points and three assists. Strange to say, but since this is the first prolonged stretch of extended playing time in his career, he could be hitting the theoretical rookie wall, especially since Houston was able to key on him so well.
Jeff Pendergraph looks like he’s going through the same rough stretch that Dante Cunningham went through a little while ago.