The Portland Trail Blazers are having continued success atop the Western Conference, further establishing themselves with a win over the Houston Rockets. It was a close game, but the Blazers pulled ahead in the second half to secure the second-best record in the NBA.
Houston had a big contribution from Dwight Howard, with the big man putting up 32 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks. James Harden chipped in 25 points, six rebounds and seven assists, but Portland overcame both with a team effort.
With Damian Lillard struggling, shooting one of 10 field goals, LaMarcus Aldridge stepped up with a monster game. The surefire All-Star forward dropped 31 points and 25 rebounds, shooting 12-of-22 and 7-of-9 from the free-throw line.
Robin Lopez had a double-double as well with 16 points and 10 rebounds, but it was Aldridge who ultimately picked up the slack with his team performing poorly. Lillard wasn't the only one shooting poorly, as Wesley Matthews' 6-of-16 field-goal shooting was indicative of Houston's solid defense in the backcourt.
The Blazers just couldn't stop the Rockets inside, with Houston scoring 66 points in the paint (63 percent of the team's points). Portland allows 45.6 points in the paint, according to Team Rankings, which is an area the defense needs to hone in on.
The Blazers are leading the Western Conference with a 19-4 record, which trails just the 19-3 record of the Indiana Pacers for the league's best. Portland already beat the Pacers on Dec. 2, joining just the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder as the trio of teams to defeat Indiana.
The Blazers have topped teams like the Thunder, the Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs, so it's safe to assume Portland is the real deal and a top-tier team in the West.
The team had a fairly easy schedule to start the season but is 6-1 through the month of December. Portland's next three games are against teams below .500, followed by matchups against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Blazers can likely continue their success, not only evidenced by their great team play but also the ability of their stars to step up when others struggle. Portland is back, and in a big way, with Aldridge leading the charge in the Western Conference.