Change came early with the opening tip. That was not Joel "the Thrilla" Przybilla with the opening tip. Greg Oden did enough in the pre-season to earn the starting job.
The first quarter was pretty rugged as the Rockets
did what they do and their defense, combined with Portland
turnovers, kept them tied at 23-all.
After that the numbers got ugly.
42.9 percent shooting.
42 points in the entire second half, including being outscored by a 31-21 margin in the crucial fourth quarter.
Greg Oden picked up five fouls, had just three field goal attempts, no free throws, and seven turnovers.
Joel Przybilla played just 16 minutes and fouled out with only two points of his own. Thus the centers combined for four points, nine turnovers and 11 fouls against a team playing a 6'6" center.
All-world Brandon Roy...who got his first "MVP chant during pre-game introductions...went 5-18 while projected All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge dialed up four points in the final three quarters and 9:32 of the first.
This is not good. Against an out-manned, out-gunned, out-talented Houston team depleted by injuries, those are some scary numbers.
What is scary about them is even on a night where Oden, Aldridge and Roy had extremely sub-par games, the Blazers blew out the Rockets. Oh, sure, the final score did not look bad and the Rockets even managed to pull within six with 1:47 left, but starting with the 12-0 run in the closing seconds of the first quarter and 3:25 of the second, this game was never really in doubt.
That speaks well of the talent the Blazers have this year. Travis Outlaw was in full Super-Trout mode, scoring seemingly at will.
Despite being detriments on offense, Oden and Przybilla controlled the boards and the paint, combining for 7 blocks and 22 rebounds...while Houston had just 33 as a team.
Martell Webster looked great, scoring 14 points on seven shots in 25 minutes. But it was not just the points he scored, it was how he scored them. Instead of hanging out in the corner bombing threes, he took it into the paint, created havoc for the defense, and threw down a crowd-pleasing posterization on Chuck Hayes.
Aldridge got Portland going early, took arch-nemesis Luis Scola completely out of the game, and played cheerleader for his team while saddled with foul-trouble.
Rudy Fernandez looked much improved. He was hitting his beloved step-back threes, but also was doing a great job of crossing the lane and forcing Rockets defenders out of position. While his own defense gave up a lot of easy possessions, he also managed to knock a few balls loose and interrupt the flow of the Rockets offense.
There were certainly problem areas. Steve Blake continued to play Blake-fense
on Aaron Brooks. Oden again looked stilted and confused on offense. Roy and Aldridge were the only two Blazers to finish with minuses in the plus-minus category.
But all those things show why the Blazers should be given a healthy dose of contender talk by the end of the year.
On a night when so many things went wrong, they still man-handled the Rockets and coasted to an easy win.
There will be plenty of nights when quick, agile point guards like Brooks, Devin Harris, Chris Paul and so forth create havoc for Blake and Andre Miller. But they can no longer penetrate the lane with impunity.
Several times Oden slid over and blocked shots after Brooks beat Blake and Miller. Przybilla did the same. They are moving their feet, going straight up, and getting clean blocks...including one that Oden did not get credited for because Brooks got called for an offensive foul.
In other words, this Blazer team can deal with set-backs. Even major ones. They are so talented, so deep, and most importantly, so cohesive as a group that they work together, follow the plan, and reel in the victories.
Even when their superstars have off nights, they know the team will pull them through.
Brian Wheeler likes to say, after a win, "Once again we can say,'it's a great day to be a Blazer'". He should get used to saying that a lot.