4 takeaways from Rockets' win over Blazers, their 8th straight

'For him, he had a sub-par night,' joked Terry Stotts of James Harden's 36

HOUSTON — Staring down at the statistics sheet, coach Mike D’Antoni smiled and tried to suppress the laughter brewing inside from the sheer absurdity of a true statement.

James Harden had just lit up the Portland Trail Blazers for a game-high 36 points Monday in leading a Houston Rockets’ 132-108 victory that pushed the team’s winning streak to eight in a row.

The brilliant performance actually caused a slight dip in Harden’s season scoring average.

“For him, he had a sub-par night,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts joked.

1. James Harden’s scoring tear

Harden entered the game averaging 39.5 points, but that number now sits at 39.2.

“Yeah, he had a bad game tonight. That’s unbelievable,” D’Antoni said, laughing. “I’m lost for words. What he does, you can’t do that. I know before that I’ve said he’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen. Well, he is. I haven’t seen everybody, and I haven’t coached everybody. But he’s so good at what he does. I don’t think we’ve ever seen it like this.”

The Western Conference Player of the Week for two consecutive weeks, Harden produced his eighth-straight game in which he scored 36 points or more, which ties for the longest streak of his career. Harden also scored 36-plus points in seven consecutive games last season.

D’Antoni called Harden the best offensive player he’s ever seen back in 2018, and the coach truly believes the former Kia MVP continues to improve.

“He’s added a step-back with the step-back from the step-back,” D’Antoni said, laughing. “Then he comes across half court. Anytime he comes across, if they’re not there, he bangs them. If they’re there, he goes around. I don’t know. It’s incredible what he’s doing.”

2. Russell Westbrook vs. Damian Lillard

Everyone expected plenty of fireworks between Westbrook and Lillard, as they squared off for the first time since Lillard’s game-winning buzzer-beater in Game 5 of the 2019 first round sent Westbrook’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, home.

Instead, fans inside the Toyota Center witnessed a mostly one-sided affair with Westbrook exacting revenge.

“Right now, they’re just in a stretch where they’re playing really well, and we’re still finding our way,” Lillard said.

Westbrook scored 28 points to go with 13 rebounds and 10 assists for his 141st career triple-double (his third as a Rocket), while Lillard struggled from the floor, hitting 4-of-15 for 13 points, in addition to committing a team-high four turnovers.

Westbrook says he turned defense into offense, after struggling early to find his shot. Westbrook finished 9-of-26 from the floor and 3-of-11 from deep.

“Playing off my defense is what I want to do. It’s how I’ve been doing all season long,” Westbrook said. “I pride myself on doing that every single night, and the offense will come when it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. As long as we win, that’s all I care about.”

3. Waiting for Carmelo Anthony

While the Trail Blazers reportedly plan to sign Anthony, it’s still not yet official. Stotts did say Anthony would meet the team late Monday night when it lands in New Orleans ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Pelicans.

Anthony is expected to make his debut that evening in New Orleans (8 ET, NBA TV).

“I’m not really going to talk about Carmelo right now,” Stotts said. “He’s going to meet us in New Orleans, and once he’s a part of our team I’ll answer questions about Carmelo.”

Portland hopes Anthony can provide a spark offensively for a team that has struggled to a 5-9 start. But don’t expect Anthony to play the role of third-option savior. Nobody with the Trail Blazers is expecting it, nor should the fan base or Anthony for that matter.

The Trail Blazers entered the game against the Rockets ranked last in assists. That plays a role in opponents showing a tendency to trap and blitz Blazers guards Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The duo needs a reliable threat to knock down catch-and-shoot buckets. Anthony might prove to be the perfect complement given that the other candidates for the job — Zach Collins, Jusuf Nurkic, and Pau Gasol — are injured.

4. Clint Capela returns for big night

Capela sat out of two games while progressing through the concussion protocol, only to return against the Trail Blazers and cobble together an historic night.

In addition to chipping in a season-high 22 points, Capela pulled down 20 boards for the fifth 20-point, 20-rebound outing of his career. Capela has tallied 20 rebounds in each of his last four games. The last Rockets player to do that, per Elias Sports Bureau, was Elvin Hayes (Jan. 9-19, 1971).

Interestingly, Hayes was in attendance for Capela’s dominant night.

“I talked to him a little bit after the game,” Capela said. “He congratulated me. I’m just proud of that. Hopefully, I can keep going.:”

The Rockets out-rebounded Portland 58-44, marking the first time all season they outproduced the opponent by double-digits in that category. Houston finished 8-1 last season when it out-rebounded the opponent by double-digits.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here , find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

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