Houston Rockets 116, Trail Blazers 98 – Shooting Pros

The Houston Rockets shot over 51% from the field, including 33 points from James Harden in only 35 minutes. Without Chandler Parsons (calf) and Carlos Delfino (foot) in the rotation, the Rockets were able to win convincingly against LaMarcus Aldridge and his team in his first game back from an ankle injury. The Trail Blazers didn’t do themselves any favors from the three point line, hitting only two of twenty tries, including a one for eleven showing from Wesley Matthews.

The Rockets capped off a run of three opponents with losing records with a win in Portland, and they did so with the widest margin of the three games. The Blazers were expected to put up a fight in the Rose Garden, and in fact closed the gap to single digits a number of times. The Rockets were on point, however, having a solid right from the floor and earning their starters a few minutes of rest at the end of the game. LaMarcus Adrige was by far the best player for Portland, shooting 12-19 and racking up a spectacular 32 points. Asik had trouble defending him all night, though in the end he wasn’t enough to save his team.

James Harden, however, surpassed Aldridge by a single point, with his 33 points coming on 11-21 shooting. his 7 rebounds, 6 assists, a steal and a block make up for his 4 turnovers, putting together an extremely solid line. After a few middling games for Harden, he surged back against a team missing its best wing defender in Nicolas Batum (shoulder). At this point it’s pretty clear what Harden can give you (elite wing scoring and distributing), what he doesn’t (defense), and what his liabilities are (turnovers and elite wing stoppers… like Andre Iguodala).

Jeremy Lin also had a very nice outing, shooting 8-13 for 22 points. He filled out the box score with 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals and 4 turnovers. His turnovers remain a problem, but if he can put together box scores like that, he can more than make up for them. He attacked the basket and created space for players like Omer Asik and Greg Smith to dunk the ball, both of which are great signs. Lin outplayed Damian Lillard, which is no mean feat, even though Lillard is a rookie. Lin’s defense also looked better than average, with him working hard to stay in front of his man and contest everything.

Omer Asik actually had a quiet night, scoring only 9 points on 7 shots and pulling in 11 boards. The fact that he had 5 offensive rebounds was great, as is the fact that he can at this point be expected to post double doubles regularly. As noted, Asik wasn’t an optimal man defender against a ranged big like Aldridge, but he continued to alter shots at the rim and dissuade drives. In fact, the team defense overall looked better tonight, with switches, shows and closeouts happening with more haste and communication.

Francisco Garcia made it easy to forget that Delfino is injured, replacing his shooting with 11 points on 9 shots to go with his 2 rebounds and 3 steals. Garcia hit his first 3 threes, but missed the last 4. While not as good as his last couple games, Garcia has shown that he’s willing and able to contribute as a spot up shooter. Greg Smith rounded out the starters, looking decent until his early exit due to his sixth foul. He was aggressive getting to the basket all night, and he racked up 19(!) points on only 9(!!) shots, due to his 9-12(!!!) free throw shooting. He may only have grabbed 5 rebounds, but he had no turnovers in his 24 minutes. Smith is playing well, and it’s come at a great time.

Donatas Motiejunas led the bench in minutes (26), and he looked inconsistent. He hit only 3-10 shots, but he had a solid 7 rebounds. He’s still a work in progress, and in some games he looks like both the rough draft and the final product. Patrick Beverley shared the court with Lin for a while, as two dual-point guard lineups did battle. Beverley didn’t miss a shot, going 3-3 for 7 points, as well as dishing 6 dimes. Beverley is showing why he was retained, as he seems to be made entirely of hustle and effort on both sides of the ball. His inbounds steal as the third quarter wound down was one of the highlights of the evening for Houston.

The rest of the bench had middling lines. Terrence Jones came crashing to earth after a fantastic game, scoring no points on two shots and grabbing a single board in 14 minutes. Robinson only played a few minutes, in which he hit his only attempt and missed two free throws for a 2 point night. James Anderson played 20 minutes and grabbed 4 rebounds, but only put up 2 attempts for 3 points. Tim Ohlbrecht and Aaron Brooks took and missed one shot a piece during garbage time.

With the postseason right around the corner and a tough game in Denver the following day, the Rockets turned on the gas in the second half to cruise to a comfortable lead. Despite a couple runs from the Blazers, their terrible three point shooting helped doom them. The Rockets now move up to 43-33, the most games (10) above .500 they’ve been all season. With Golden State flirting with but avoiding defeat, the Rockets must play near perfectly to have a shot at the sixth seed, and a first round without San Antonio or Oklahoma City. This win was critical, and they did what had to be done.

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Houston Rockets @ Portland Trail Blazers on 4/5/2013