HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) – In a rare Saturday afternoon matinee, the Rockets showed up late yet again.
Portland rolled into the Toyota Center and absolutely dismantled Houston in a 96-79 win, and the game wasn’t nearly that close. The Blazers built a 19-point halftime lead, and a late Rockets run brought them within 11 at the 2:58 mark.
But that was only window dressing. The Rockets were never seriously in the game after the first quarter.
“It’s disappointing the way we came out and played this game today,” said head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “As important as this game was, it’s disappointing to say the least. There’s no excuse for the way we played tonight.”
The Trailblazers led by 32 at one point. The Rockets had all of 36 points at halftime. They didn’t reach the 50-point threshold until the 2:29 mark of the 3rd quarter.
“It was a rough game,” said Corey Brewer. “We just couldn’t get anything going.”
The list of indignities was long. A week away from the All-Star Break and nearly two-thirds of the way through the season, Houston sits at 27-26, nine games off last year’s 56-win pace.
Saturday evening’s loss was the latest reminder that a sudden resurgence may not be in the cards this season.
“Veteran guys or not, if there’s no chemistry or if guys aren’t on the same page — it doesn’t matter, veteran guys or rookies — we have to play on the same page,” said James Harden.
Harden was mostly his typical self, dropping 33 points. It was the sixth time in eight games vs. Portland he’s reached the 30-point mark. A hand injury suffered early in the 4th quarter kept him on the sideline in the final 10 minutes of the blowout.
As for whether he could’ve gone back in? He was unsure but didn’t have to make the decision.
“It was a big deficit, so it was pointless,” Harden said.
That was a good way to describe the Rockets offense.
They shot 32.5 percent from the field, had just two scorers in double figures and made a season-low seven three-pointers. Harden himself was a mere 7-of-18 shooting.
In stark contrast, the Blazers were fluid offensively, with no player dominating the ball. But they out-rebounded Houston by 11 and assisted on 23 made baskets. Damian Lillard led Portland with 21 points.
That defensive effort was a focal point after the game, with a somber bunch answering questions yet again about a slow start.
“It definitely bothers me,” said Trevor Ariza. “But we all have to police ourselves and hold ourselves accountable when we come out like that again.”
The Rockets also trailed the Suns by 15 points in the first quarter of Thursday night’s win in Phoenix. They couldn’t replicate a comeback this time, and Dwight Howard is tired of the early lulls.
“We definitely don’t need to just talk about it. We’ve been talking about it for a while,” Howard said. “Just talking about it hasn’t done anything.”
Howard was a minor bright spot, as he scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds. He also played 41 minutes, a good sign he’s healthy after his recent injuries.
“The ankle injury, it was a little set back,” Bickerstaff said. “I thought he was playing really well up to that point… but now he’s starting to build himself back up, his conditioning, his timing and all of those things.”
Houston is still seventh in the Western Conference standings, two games clear of Utah and a game back of Dallas. Portland is in ninth, a mere 1.5 games behind the Rockets.
Two of Houston’s next five games come against the Trailblazers, and the teams’ season series is tied at a game apiece.
The Rockets get the Trailblazers Wednesday on the second night of a West Coast back-to-back. The first game? A trip to Oracle Arena to face the 45-4 Warriors.
The Rockets don’t play at home again until Feb. 27 against the Spurs, a three-week span. Saturday’s loss doesn’t suggest Houston will have figured a frustrating first half of the season out by then.
“The battlefield is in our own heads,” Howard said. “We’re competing against ourself. We’re beating ourself. We have to do a better job of not allowing our frustrations — our missed shots, our missed plays, our first half of the season — to keep beating us down.”