PORTLAND — All year long, the Trail Blazers have tried to find some consistency between their play at home and their play on the road.
Unfortunately, they may be starting to find it.
Portland dropped its second consecutive game at the Rose Garden Wednesday when it fell to the Rockets 103-96.
Two nights earlier, an erroneous goaltending call left the the Blazers heartbroken at the hands of the Thunder. This time, it didn’t seem as though there was any heart left to break.
Houston (15-11) pounced on Portland in the opening half, taking advantage of a listless defense and building a lead as high as 19 points. And even though the Blazers climbed all the way back to tie the score early in the fourth quarter, their energy always seemed rented — never owned.
“We’ve got to work harder defensively. The start of the game, you establish yourself both offensively and defensively. We never did that,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “I thought (Houston) came out very aggressive. We weren’t very aggressive and they ran their offense hard.”
And when McMillan said “they,” he meant everyone — especially the Rockets’ second unit.
Not only did Houston’s reserves outscore Houston’s starters 66-37, they outscored Portland’s starters 66-59.
In fact, Rockets coach Kevin McHale had so much faith in his bench that he: A) played Luis Scola just 55 seconds in the second quarter despite him going 5 for 5 from the field in the first, and B) played Kevin Martin just 15 minutes the entire night despite him leading the team in scoring at 19.3 points per game.
The Rockets finished the game 41 of 78 and were above 50 percent from the field from the end of the first quarter on. The Blazers (14-12), meanwhile, came out stagnant offensively and found themselves playing catch up for the better part of the game.
But catch up they did.
After Martin knocked down a 20-foot fadeaway with 8:10 remaining in the third quarter, the Rockets took a 69-50 lead. However, a 15-3 run by Portland ensued, and suddenly the home team found itself within seven by the end of the third quarter.
The momentum hardly slowed.
Three times in the fourth, the Blazers tied the score — once at 77, again at 80, and a last time at 82. But they never took the lead; and on this night, it never seemed as if they would.
Part of that had to do with the Rockets 3-point shooting. Backup forward Chase Budinger, who led all scorers with 22 points, knocked down four 3-pointers, as did teammate Courtney Lee. Overall, Houston went 10 for 23 from deep.
But Portland’s inability to take control also stemmed from its offensive inconsistency — particularly LaMarcus Aldridge’s failure to to score.
The Blazers’ leading scorer tallied a meager 13 points and hit just 5 of hist 14 shots. That’s 35 percent. Then again, listening to him after the game, it sounded like he was only feeling about 35 percent as well.
“I felt sick coming into the game and I thought I was going to feel better, but my body — I just couldn’t get it going,” Aldridge said. “I was trying to fight through it but I couldn’t get it going.”
But the Blazers were hardly the only team enduring health problems Wednesday.
Late in the third quarter, Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry left the game with with a right elbow injury. Lowry came into the contest averaging 14.9 points and eight assists, and had posted 12 points and five assists when he left.
Nevertheless, Portland perpetually came up short.
Jamal Crawford, who led the Blazers with 21 points, called the loss “disheartening” and said that his team needs to start “simplifying some things and getting back to our foundations.”
Raymond Felton, who scored nine points on 4-of-11 shooting after returning from a foot sprain, added that his club is “not playing with energy” and that the next two games are “must-win for us.”
Those next two games will be on the road — first against the Hornets Friday, and then against the Mavericks Saturday.
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org