Harden, Howard carry Rockets to win over Blazers

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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PORTLAND — Things started out well for the Trail Blazers, but that didn’t last long once Houston’s stars asserted themselves as the force many believe they can be.

James Harden finished with a game-high 33 points and Dwight Howard added 29 points and 13 rebounds as the Rockets beat the Blazerrs 116-101 on Tuesday night at the Moda Center.

The Blazers started out the night hot from deep, hitting four of their first five 3-point attempts, forcing Houston to call an early timeout.

From that point, it seemed like nothing came easily on the offensive end for the Blazers, and Portland didn’t get the stops they needed to survive.

“We had a hard time getting shots to fall,” Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. “When that happens we have to do a better job defensively. They made some tough shots, but we also made some mistakes at times, everybody.”

Lillard, who scored 22 points, and LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 21 points, have been masterful thus far this season, but Houston slowed them down a bit.

The Rockets did a good job of containing the tandem that was averaging over 50 points per game combined through the first three games.

“I thought we did a pretty good job tonight on the pick and rolls with him (Aldridge) and Lillard,” Howard said. “They are both terrific scorers, and we were able to hold them down a little bit. Last year when I came here, Lillard had a big game.”

Following a night when both of them had forgettable performances against the Clippers, Houston’s Harden and Howard dominated.

The Rockets outscored the Blazers by a whopping 54-28 margin with points in the paint led by their dynamic duo.

“They’re very specific in what they do,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “They shoot threes, and they get to the paint.”

Stotts said he didn’t think a single one of Howard’s 13 field goal attempts came from outside the paint.

As the third quarter opened, the Blazers were down five points. They suddenly saw their deficit balloon to 18 as Robin Lopez picked up his fourth foul of the game with 11:12 left in the third quarter and they failed to score a point in first 4:11 of the quarter.

The Blazers were beat up on the boards and beaten by the Rockets in transition. Houston had a 47-30 rebound advantage, scored 19 fast break points to Portland’s six and outscored them in second-chance points 19-6.

The Rockets were able to win comfortably despite shooting 27 percent from 3-point range.

Stotts said the Blazers “have to do a better job defending the rim and the paint.”

With Lopez in foul trouble, Stotts turned to a small line-up with Dorell Wright to “kick start” the offense as points were becoming very hard to come by.

Wright, who turned in his longest shift of his early Blazers career, scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds in 20 minutes.

“I think it’s a great line-up for us, it’s a lot of the reason I’m here,” Wright said. “To match up when teams go small and even make match-ups hard for other teams.”

The Blazers were down 15 when he entered the game midway through the third and were down 10 with 7:24 left in the fourth.

The Rockets also received a lift from Patrick Beverley, returning from an abdominal tear that was supposed to keep him out 1-2 weeks after just five days. Beverly scored 12 points and brought energy defensively off the bench.

Notes

• The Blazers did not have Joel Freeland, the team's back-up center, as he sat out with a strained left hip and is day-to-day. Meyers Leonard played in his stead, scoring six points and grabbing two rebounds in 13 minutes.

• Dorell Wright played the most minutes he has so far this season with the Trail Blazers, playing 20 minutes and scoring eight points.