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Blazers Burn Rockets In OT

November 03, 2012 11:28 pm EDT

HOUSTON - So it turns out the Rockets aren’t going 82-0 this year.

It appears as if it actually does require more than three practices to develop sustainable chemistry and cohesion.

Maybe, just maybe, James Harden isn’t superhuman after all.

And last but not least, it would seem as if the team’s coaches truly do know what they’re talking about.

Yes, those four statements were brought to you by the Captain Obvious Department of Observational Science, but the latter point is especially worth remembering given the fact Head Coach Kevin McHale has spent significant time talking – after victories, mind you – about the Rockets’ propensity for getting “sticky” with the ball on offense, conceding too many turnovers and falling asleep far too often defensively. You know what tends to cure those things? Practice time and increased familiarity. And up to this point, the new-look Rockets have had very little time for either one.

Still, it will be tough for Houston’s players, coaches and fans not to play an extended version of the ‘what-if?’ game in the aftermath of the Rockets’ 95-85 overtime defeat at the hands of the Portland Trailblazers. What if just a handful of those point blank shots – and they were legion – hadn’t rimmed out? What if the Rockets had done more to make Portland pay early in the second quarter when the Blazers couldn’t buy a bucket? What if Houston hadn’t missed so many freebies at the line and wide-open looks from beyond the arc?

Of course, ‘what ifs?’ lie at the heart of probably 90 percent of NBA defeats. This is a league of near-misses, bad bounces and wild momentum shifts. It does no good to lament what might have been. Far better to absorb the lessons, learn from them and don’t look back.

The Rockets had played similarly dangerous games in Detroit and Atlanta, allowing leads to dissipate in the third quarter, only to be rescued by the brilliance of James Harden down the stretch. Saturday night, however, the heroics never arrived. Harden put up 24 points, six rebounds and five assists, but languished through a rough shooting night (8-24) and turned the ball over five times.  He also played a key role in one of the game’s defining plays, when he lost his man in the last minute of regulation while attempting to help on LaMarcus Aldridge, allowing an easy kick-out to Wesley Matthews who drained the game-tying tree-pointer.

That play, like so many of Houston’s mistakes through the first three games, is the sort of miscue one would expect from a team that is still very much in the nascent stages of learning how to play together. It’s also easily correctable.

“We wanted (Harden) to dig but then also make sure he knew where his man was,” said McHale when asked how Matthews should have been defended in that situation. “Matthews relocated. We’ve got to work on it. That’s just another thing where we have a scheme for that but James is really not that familiar with it yet … We looked like a team that hasn’t been together a long time.”

The good news: The Rockets now have three days off staring them in the face in order to continue the process of tapping into the immense potential that is so clearly there. Even in defeat and even amid a second half that was filled with unsightly bouts of stagnant, iso-heavy offense, every once in awhile the team gave its fans glimpses of what they can expect to see much more of when the players familiarize themselves with each other and the sets, systems and schemes in place. Those beautiful Harden to Lin to a backdoor-cutting Parsons plays are there, it’s just going to take time to make sure that sort of execution is the rule rather than the exception.

“With all the new faces, new system and new plays we really don’t have that great feel for one another out on the court,” admitted Patrick Patterson after the game. “(The three days off) give us a chance to practice and get better offensively and defensively and work on the things we need to work on and then get ready for Denver. Tomorrow we’ll rest our bodies, then Monday morning focus with a great mentality to get better.”

It will happen. The collective basketball IQ of this group is far too high for them to far short of their goal. And when it clicks it’s going to be an obvious – and electric – sight to behold.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

We didn’t have nearly enough ball movement and not enough pace in the game. It wasn’t the prettiest game; we missed a lot of open shots at the rim. We didn’t find a way to win the game.

(on what happened on Matthews’ game-tying three)

We wanted (Harden) to dig but then also make sure he knew where his man was. Matthews relocated. We’ve got to work on it. That’s just another thing where we have a scheme for that; James is really not that familiar with it. Matthews hit a big shot on that one but those are the types of things that we have to clean up. We looked like a team that hasn’t been together a long time. We were able to get away with it for a couple games. We’ve got to make sure the ball moves and that will help James a great deal.

(On the pace of the Rockets) “We got to get the ball up and down the floor. We got to be able to attack and move the ball and get the ball going from side-to-side. In order to do that, we need some clock. We got way too complacent walking it up and trying to run a pick-and-roll late in the clock. In the last two minutes of the game it's one thing to try to play that style (pick and roll) but part of it I think our guys got a little bit tired.”

(On the play of Marcus Morris) “Marcus played well last game. Marcus played well again tonight. He made some shots out there. He was solid for us and he's playing better and better.”

PATRICK PATTERSON

Even with all the mistakes we made on offense and even with all the stagnant offensive play, standing around, one-on-one isos, not moving the ball, not cutting, not doing the type of offense we had been doing during the preseason … even with all that, we had a chance to win and were still in a solid position to win.

(reason for stagnation just a lack of familiarity and practice time?)

Yeah, pretty much that’s the only reason. We haven’t had that much practice together. With all the new faces, new system and new plays we really don’t have that great feel for one another out on the court.

(The three days off) give us a chance to practice and get better offensively and defensively and work on the things we need to work on and then get ready for Denver. So with tomorrow off, we’ll rest our bodies, then Monday morning focus with a great mentality to get better.

JEREMY LIN

(On the game) “It wasn't the prettiest game today and I think both sides struggled to hit shots. That's the way it goes sometimes.”

(On the tempo of the Rockets play) “I think we missed a lot of shots that we normally hit but they (Portland) did too probably. They had the same thing. They played last night and had to travel. We were up with fifty seconds left (in regulation) and a bad turnover by me at a bad time and we don't get a shot, stuff like that. You got to get shots up down the stretch. That is a play that I would like to forget.”

(On the fan support) “The fan support was incredible. They did everything they could to help us and we are very, very thankful. That was really cool. They were awesome.”

MARCUS MORRIS

(On his shooting and overall progress) “I'm just trying to play, go out there and get extra minutes. Trying to do something while I'm out there. I'm going to shoot when I'm open and pass all night. I'm going to try to do the right thing.”

(On the overall play of the Rockets) “I think we played well. We came out sluggish in the second half. Early in the second half we kind of gave them a little run to get back. We just have to pick it up. Guys are tired a little bit. We played three games in four nights. We haven't played together for a long time but with all those excuses we lost the game and we just have to bounce back.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On what went wrong tonight) “We couldn't make shots. We had a lot of good opportunities but the shots just didn't fall. There are going to be nights like that when we can't make shots. We need to bounce back in the next game.”

(On the last second shot he had in regulation) “It was good defense. I lost the ball...good defense.”

(On whether his ankle slowed him down after tweaking it) “To be honest, yeah, but I don't like to make excuses. I had opportunities to make plays and to make shots and I just didn't. That's part of basketball. All I can do is get back to the basics, get in the gym and work to be better.”

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS COACH TERRY STOTTS

(On Matthews’ value to the team) “Wes is a warrior. He took a challenge on James Harden and was physical and tenacious. He’s as good a competitor as I've been around.”

WESLEY MATHEWS

(On James Harden) “When you put up 45 the night before it kind of wears you out. We are friends but when its tip off time there are no friends. This is a team we will be fighting for a playoff position all year.

(On Damian Lillard’s play) “I just told him to keep doing everything else and not concentrate on scoring. He was huge for us in overtime.”

NOTES

Tonight’s crowd was an Opening Night sellout of 18,140. Dating back to the end of 2011-12, Houston has seven sellouts over its last 13 regular season games at Toyota Center.

The Rockets were outscored by a 14-4 margin in overtime and dropped a 95-85 decision to the Trail Blazers. The loss snapped Houston’s four-game winning streak (3/1/11-4/9/12) over Portland.

Portland went 10-of-24 (.417) from beyond the arc tonight and kept Houston to just 34-of-96 (.354) from the field, which was a near opposite of the last meeting between these two teams. In that game, Houston hit 10-of-19 (.526) from downtown and held the Trail Blazers to 33-of-83 (.398) from the floor for a 94-89 victory at Portland (4/9/12). The Rockets actually connected on just 5-of-26 (.192) from 3-point range tonight.

Houston grabbed another 56 rebounds tonight to follow up on a 58-rebound outing at Atlanta (11/2/12). The Rockets had nine 50-plus rebounding games all of last season (Rockets record: 6-3).

James Harden followed up on his record-setting opening two games with a team-high 24 points (8-24 FG, 7-10 FT) tonight, adding six rebounds and five assists. His 82 total points over his first two outings were the most scored by a player in his first two games with a team in NBA history (37 points on 10/31/12 at Detroit and a career-high 45 points on 11/2/12 at Atlanta).

Jeremy Lin finished with 13 points (5-13 FG), seven assists and three steals tonight. Lin tallied 21 points (6-16 FG, 7-8 FT), a career-high 10 rebounds and seven assists last night at Atlanta (11/2/12) for his first double-double of the season.

Omer Asik, who grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds last night at Atlanta (11/2/12), had another 15 boards tonight. Over his first two seasons with Chicago, Asik recorded nine games with 10 or more boards, but none came in consecutive outings.

Chandler Parsons posted nine points (4-10 FG) and a career-high 12 rebounds tonight. His previous best was 11 boards vs. Golden State (3/22/12) and 11 rebounds vs. Dallas (3/24/12).

LaMarcus Aldridge notched a game-high 27 points (13-29 FG), 11 rebounds, six assists and two blocks tonight. Aldridge has now scored at least 20 points in each of his last nine regular season visits to Toyota Center (20 on 11/3/07, 22 on 2/11/08, 21 on 2/24/09, 22 on 4/5/09, 27 on 10/31/09, 20 on 1/29/10, 27 on 1/5/11, 22 on 1/14/12 and 27 on 11/3/12).

J.J. Hickson grabbed a team-high 12 boards to go with nine points (4-10 FG) tonight. He also posted 12 points (5-11 FG) and 10 rebounds in the last meeting of 2011-12 at Portland (4/9/12).

Damian Lillard registered another 20 points (8-15 FG, 3-6 3FG), nine assists and six boards tonight. He came into the game as the first NBA player to score 21-plus points in each of his first two career games since LeBron James did it back in 2003. In that season, James registered just eight points in his third outing at Portland (11/1/03).

Wesley Matthews added 16 points (7-18 FG) and five assists tonight. He also scored 17 points (4-9 3FG) in 35 minutes of action last night at Oklahoma City (11/2/12).