Trip Starts Off Tough In Houston

by Casey Holdahl
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HOUSTON -- The Trail Blazers started a five-game road trip off Thursday night with a 126-109 loss to the Rockets at the Toyota Center in front of an announced crowd of 15,550. The Trail Blazers are now 7-6 for the year and 4-4 on the road this season.

"We kind of suck right now," said Damian Lillard. "We're usually a pretty good offensive team, we've been bad on offense and bad on defense. We're trying hard but we're not always making the smartest plays, sometimes letting the offensive end effect the defensive end. It's not good enough. We're not very good right now."

If nothing else, Trail Blazers got off to a much better start Thursday night versus the Rockets than they did Tuesday versus the Bulls, jumping out to a quick 6-0 lead. CJ McCollum in particular came out playing well, going a perfect 5-of-5 from the field for 11 first-quarter points.

But the Rockets, behind a typical yeoman offensive effort from James Harden, would use a 16-6 run to take a 15-point lead with under a minute to play in the first quarter. Both teams would shoot 55 percent from the field for the quarter, but Houston shot a significantly better percentage from three — the Rockets went 6-of-11 from behind the line compared to 2-of-5 shooting for the Blazers — to take a 41-29 lead into the second quarter.

"We were getting beat on the defensive end and we were trying hard but it just seemed like it wasn't going our way," said Lillard. "Usually when things like this happen you've got to just keep fighting and stay with it. It's important for our team to stay together and I think that's one of the biggest strengths of our team is we stay together."

Portland would rally to get back into the game early in the second quarter, using a 13-5 run to start the quarter while cutting Houston’s lead to 46-42. The Rockets held a narrow lead for almost the entirety of the quarter until the Trail Blazers scored the last seven points of the half to tie the game at 62-62 at the intermission.

After allowing the Rockets to shoot better than 50 percent in the first quarter, Portland held the home team to just 32 percent shooting from the field and 29 percent shooting in the third while shooting better than 55 percent from both the field and three for the quarter.

Though that stout defense would not carry over to the second half. The Rockets would shoot 62 percent from the field in the third to outscore the Trail Blazers 38-21 and take command of the game. Houston, despite being the team playing on the second night of a back-to-back, continued to outplay Portland in the fourth, building a lead as large as 25 before Stotts, with his own second night of a back-to-back against Pelicans looming, opted to put in the end of the bench with under six minutes to play in the game.

"You've got to work hard, obviously, but you've got to work smart, too," said Maurice Harkless of Portland's season-long defensive issues. "You can't just be out there playing wild and expect to get stops, that's not how it is. It's attention to detail, the gameplan, knowing what coverages we're in. We've got to do a better job executing."

The Blazers were led by McCollum, who went 11-of-19 from the field to finish with a game-high 26 points, four assists and three rebounds in 34 minutes. Harkless continued his strong play as of late, going 8-of-12 from the field and 3-of-4 from three for 19 points to go along with six rebounds.

Damian Lillard finished with 18 points, five rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes. Evan Turner added 12 points, four rebounds and three assists off the bench. Allen Crabbe started in place of Al-Farouq Aminu (left calf strain) and went 1-of-5 for five points in just under 20 mintues after taking a shot to the knee in the first half.

"Just something different," said Terry Stotts of his decision to start Crabbe. "I thought obviously the way they play, I thought it was a better matchup, at least for the starters. I didn't know how the game would play out but I thought matching up with them at the beginning would be better."

The Rockets were led by Harden, who continued his early-season, MVP-caliber performance with a triple-double of 26 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds in 31 minutes.

"James Harden played an outstanding game," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "You look at the first and third quarters, he dominated the game in those two quarters. We made our run in the second quarter with him out of the game. I was glad we came back from 15 to tie it up at halftime but they're very good at what they do and Harden is a big key to that."

Next up, the Trail Blazers head east to New Orleans to face the Pelicans at Smoothie King Arena Friday night with hopes of avoiding what would be their first three-game losing streak of the season.

"I know we're going to be fine, but it's just frustrating for us to be doing the same things, hurting ourselves in the same ways, for all of us, myself included," said Lillard. "We try hard as a group, we've just got to be better. We've got to stay with it."

Tipoff is scheduled 5 pm on CSNNW and 620 AM.

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