The Rockets played a pretty good game on the road, against the best in the West, and came away a short. It was the defense that really let us down (we only had eight turnovers). Aldridge had a career game of 31 points and 25 rebounds. Jones got into foul trouble halfway through the second quarter and his youth showed against the hyperactive Aldridge. Jones simply had no answer for the superstar. When Jones got into foul trouble it was up to Parsons to guard him and that was even worse. It all unraveled at the end of the fourth quarter. Finally, Sampson put Howard on Aldridge and it worked a little better, but a big 11 – 1 run toward the end of the quarter cemented it.
Tonight was a battle of the bigs and the Rockets truly missed Asik and his defense (the veracity of his injury and complexity of his situation seems questionable, leading up to the Rockets preferred trade window). Howard had another giant game with 32 points and 17 rebounds. He nearly carried the Rockets and is really rolling. Still, Lopez and Aldridge were way too much for Howard and Jones. Lopez played very well with a 16 and 10 double double. They really do have a twin towers that works. Jones just got outplayed tonight by an elite player. He got 10 points, but only two rebounds and his plus minus was an incredible -26, damn!
Parsons struggled tonight and his back looked like it was really affecting his play. At 37 minutes, he shot 6 for 18, and he wasn’t himself on defense or in transition. One critical set of plays that included Parsons was in the third quarter, when it was close. The Rockets were down two and the Blazers missed, Parsons fought Howard for a board and it went right to the Blazers for an easy bucket. Parsons looked like he could barely stand up and Howard and Parsons bitched at each other. Parsons got a chance to take it to the hole on the next possession and gingerly drove in, missed it and demonstratively complained he was fouled. The Blazers came back to hit a three. That took the Rockets down seven, as opposed to being down two, fostering an 11 – 0 run by the Blazers.
Lin came back after missing seven games but played limited minutes and never really made an impact. Kelvin Sampson has his work cut out managing the rotations in this stretch of games until McHale returns. The body language looked bad a few times for the Rockets when the game was really pretty close. The first half was a virtual dead heat and the Rockets were definitely in this game with an opportunity to win it, but they often looked defeated and down.
It still looks like the Rockets chemistry is in an early stage. With one quarter of the season in the books it’s a normal place to be for a team that is trying to integrate Dwight into the role he deserves. In tonight’s game Howard was dominant on the offensive end and Harden and the Rockets looked better at getting him the ball in position to score. Ultimately, it turns out that the Rockets are still learning how to close games and be in a position to win tough games, against great opponents, on the road.
Early on in the game I knew it was going to come down to the fourth quarter and was worried. The Rockets were nearly in a position to win the game late, but the Blazers dominated in crunch time. It looks like it’s going to be this issue for the rest of the season and then the playoffs are on a whole other level, so we might as well take our licks now if it helps in the growth of the team.
We definitely can play with the elite teams. The question remains as to the Rockets will, resolve and toughness. The Rockets are young, but the Blazers are as well and they were the better team tonight.