James Harden had 29 points and six of his teammates scored in double digits as the Houston Rockets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 111-103 on Tuesday at the Toyota Center in Houston.
Rockets' Lack of Depth, Poor Defense and Tough Schedule Will Send Them into Tailspin
The Rockets supporting cast came up big with the bench outscoring the Blazers reserves, 37-13.
However, that was a bright spot in a season in which the reserves have not done well. For that—and other reasons—the Rockets' season may get worse.
Of note, their reserves ranked last in points per game leading into Tuesday.
Eric Gordon was an excellent sixth man and starting option in a pinch last season, but he was shooting just 36.6 percent from the field entering Tuesday. He did start Tuesday and scored 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting, so that could get him going.
Danuel House Jr. and Gerald Green aren't shooting 40 percent either. And Carmelo Anthony, who is no longer with the team, didn't work out.
Nene and PJ Tucker offer defensive toughness, but the team is far more reliant on the trio of Paul, Harden and Clint Capela this season than it was last year.
Second, the defense has collapsed year over year. After finishing sixth in defensive efficiency in 2017-18, Houston ranks 25th in that category, per ESPN.com. Six members of the rotation finished in the top 105 in defensive real plus-minus last year, per ESPN.com, but two of them (Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute) are gone.
Third, the Rockets' schedule is brutal. They have three more games against each of the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers, who occupy four of the top five Western Conference spots.
Houston also needs to play the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics twice each. That quartet makes up four of the top five Eastern Conference slots.
The Rockets have an uphill climb just to make the playoffs, but they look like a lottery team right now.
Blazers Should Deal for Trevor Ariza
After starting 10-3, the Blazers are just 5-9 in their last 14 games. At eighth place in the West, the Blazers are close to slipping out of the playoff picture with the Sacramento Kings just a half-game behind.
Of course, there's still plenty of time to right the ship, but Portland should consider making a deal to shake things up.
Phoenix Suns forward Trevor Ariza is receiving a ton of interest, per John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. Gambadoro noted eight teams have reached out, and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reported the Lakers were in talks.
The Blazers could use someone who can contribute on both ends. Ariza averaged 11.7 points per game last season and finished with a positive defensive real plus-minus despite having to routinely check the opposing team's best wing player. He could immediately start for the Blazers at small forward and could even play some power forward in smaller lineups.
Dan Favale of Bleacher Report last week proposed an Ariza-Blazers deal with Wade Baldwin IV, Maurice Harkless and a 2021 second-rounder going to Phoenix. He also wrote the following:
"After their hot start fell by the wayside, the Blazers need to do something. They've owned the league's worst defensive rating for more than a month and have dropped six of their past seven games. They're now on the verge of dropping outside of the Western Conference's playoff picture. Holding serve if this keeps up isn't an option."
The Blazers are still in a rut, especially so after losing to a below-.500 Rockets team that was on a three-game slide. Picking up Ariza would be a good move.
Houston will host the Lakers at 8 p.m. ET Thursday, while Portland will finish a quick two-game road trip against the Memphis Grizzlies at 8 p.m. Wednesday.