BLAZERS CRUSH ROCKETS
Rockets slide continues to 1-5 as Blazers dominate
The Houston Rockets kicked off Tuesday night’s contest against the Portland Trail Blazers hoping to salvage a win from their three game homestand before hitting the road for a simultaneously inopportune and season-long five-game road trip. Intensity on the defensive end kept the first quarter competitive, but Houston’s cracks would soon show and the Trail Blazers would go on to rout the Rockets in a brutally efficient outing.
First quarter ended with an abysmal 19-15 Trail Blazers advantage. The highest scoring player on either side of the ball was the league’s leading scorer Damian Lillard, with 6 points. Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 4. Youngsters Isaiah Hartenstein and Gary Clark factored more heavily into the rotation than previous contests, however the Rockets poor three-point shooting continued as Houston connected on only 1-10 from three.
Stiff defense to lead off the second perpetuated more ugly basketball, as turnovers, blocks, and steals ground the pace to a crawl. One of the lone bright spots came in the form of center Clint Capela’s hustle, grinding out out 5 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks halfway through the the second quarter. The Rockets somehow managed to tie the game at one point, before the Lillard and guard C.J. McCollum sparked a Trail Blazers sparked a run to push the lead to a more recognizable gap Houston fans have become accustomed to this early in the season. The Rockets combined for a collective field goal percentage of 27.1%, with Gerald Green, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony--essentially three of the team’s four primary scorers at the moment--shooting 3-21. The Trail Blazers would head to the locker room leading 51-36.
Quarter three provided zero relief to fans beleaguered by the first half as abysmal shooting, from both the field and the line extended Portland’s lead even further. The Trail Blazers, meanwhile, exploited Houston’s interior to maintain a team field goal percentage of 52.5% to the Rockets’ 29.7%.
The fourth quarter opened with the Trail Blazers leading 85-62, as Lillard and company exerted their will on Rockets. Lillard and Nurkic would finish the contest as points leaders, having scored 22 each. None of the Rockets broke the 20-point plateau, with Paul leading the team behind a 19 point performance.
Switchless: Head coach Mike D’Antoni declared over the weekend that the Rockets would alter their defense somewhat, in an effort to lean less on the defensive switching that--while proving quite effective last season--had become a detriment. The league’s new freedom of movement rules have seemingly rendered the Rockets’ previous defensive philosophy staple obsolete, as the scheme has led to more trips to the foul line than turnovers. The result was more of the same, however, and while they were sent to the line an equal amount as the Rockets, the converted far more bludgeoned them from inside.
Carmelo Anthony is not a starter: It’s disheartening to see good players in their twilight, but that is exactly what we’re seeing in Anthony. After his necessary insertion into the starting lineup and an encouragingly efficient 24-point return on Friday, Anthony followed with a 2-12 performance in 31 minutes for 8 points. Those expecting a replacement of Trevor Ariza or Luc Mbah a Moute should continue looking, because not only is Anthony not that, he wasn’t brought in to be that. He was meant to come in and replace Ryan Anderson’s production, not either of the aforementioned, and expectations should be tempered accordingly.
Reinforcements are slowly returning: The Rockets are hemorrhaging at the moment, that much is clear. Tonight however brought two glimmers of hope in the return of forwards Marquese Chriss and Zhou Qi. Scheme familiarity and game-ready conditioning factored into their limited rotational minutes, but their return signified another step towards fielding the Rockets squad that had been assembled in the offseason to make another run at dethroning the Golden State Warriors. James Harden remains sidelined, but could possibly return sometime this weekend. Harden’s return alone should be enough to break the current losing streak, as mutually floundering Brooklyn and Chicago teams await.
Houston at Brooklyn, Friday, November 2, 6:30 pm central.