The Houston Rockets extended their winning streak to eight games by beating the visiting Portland Trail Blazers 132-108 Monday night at the Toyota Center.
The Blazers went toe-to-toe with the Rockets to start the game, entering the second quarter with a 30-29 lead. That would not prove sustainable from the five-minute mark in the second quarter through to the final whistle.
The 11-3 Rockets kept pace with the 11-2 Los Angeles Lakers atop the Western Conference. All-Star James Harden has scored at least 30 points in each contest during Houston's current streak.
The 5-9 Blazers have started the season much slower than Houston, losing seven of their last nine games.
HOU G James Harden: 36 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
HOU G Russell Westbrook: 28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
HOU C Clint Capela: 22 points, 20 rebounds, 1 steal, 4 blocks
HOU F PJ Tucker: 13 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block
HOU F Danuel House Jr.: 11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals
POR G CJ McCollum: 25 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
POR G Damian Lillard: 13 points, 11 assists
POR F Skal Labissiere: 15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks
POR C Hassan Whiteside: 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks
James Harden's Incredible Scoring Streak Rolls on with No End in Sight
There were questions prior to this season as to whether Russell Westbrook's arrival to Houston would cut into Harden's scoring.
The answer through 14 games is a resounding no.
The 30-year-old All-Star has been the Rockets' leading scorer in 13 of their 14 games, including five games of 40 or more points during the team's current winning streak. Last week was as hot as he has been since tying Wilt Chamberlain last season for the second-most 30-point games in history with 31:
Harden is on pace to average the third-most points in a season in league history behind Chamberlain's 1961-62 (50.36 points per game) and 1962-63 (44.83) seasons.
Monday night, Harden found his groove in the second quarter:
Houston took a 64-50 lead into halftime and didn't look back in the second half, leading by as many as 28 points. The Blazers attempted to trap Harden, but anything head coach Terry Stotts tried seemed to fail:
Harden's proficiency as a scorer is his greatest asset, but his susceptibility for turning the ball over is perhaps his largest Achilles' heel. He led the league in turnovers with 5.0 per game last season and leads the league through 13 games with 5.5 per game.
Against the Blazers, Harden was particularly lethal because he maintained control and recorded only three turnovers—tied for the fewest in a game for him this season.
If Harden continues to make the other facets of his game more efficient, opponents will likely have just as hard a time containing him as the Blazers did.
To make matters more challenging for opponents: Westbrook recorded his third triple-double of the season, which disregards any notion that he and Harden can't coexist.
Trail Blazers Continue to Slide in Crowded Western Conference
Any momentum Portland may have generated by beating the San Antonio Spurs 121-116 on Saturday was decimated by the Rockets.
The Blazers beat a team in the Spurs that occupies the bottom third of the Western Conference alongside them and were blown out by one of the conference's top contenders.
Entering this season, the assumption was that Portland would be in that group with the Rockets, but the gulf between where the Blazers are and where they were expected to be was on full display against Houston.
To start the night, CJ McCollum was the only Blazer to score a field goal until Damian Lillard bucketed a shot with 4:59 remaining in the first quarter. Depth has been an issue for Portland this season with the bench averaging 29.8 points—27th in the league. So, it's even more concerning that Houston ran away with this matchup despite the Blazers bench outscoring Houston's 43-22.
Injuries in the frontcourt have played a large factor in the Blazers' struggles. The team signed veteran Carmelo Anthony to a non-guaranteed contract last week, in part out of necessity. From ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski:
"Like the rest of the NBA, the Blazers wouldn't sign Anthony to sit on the end of the bench.
"They'd sign Anthony only to play—and they need that now.
"Zach Collins, the starting power forward, is out until March because of shoulder surgery. Center Jusuf Nurkic is still rehabilitating a fractured leg. It remains unclear when Pau Gasol will make his debut. Fourth-quarter Trail Blazers leads have kept disappearing as teams blitz and trap Lillard and McCollum—and those two guards need someone they trust to deliver passes for big shots. The Blazers are No. 2 in volume of offensive isolation plays this season, and that fits Anthony's style."
Following their most recent disappointing performance, the Blazers need Anthony to give them a spark.
Both squads have an upcoming away stretch.
Portland will travel to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans on Tuesday night, and the Blazers remain on the road until Nov. 27.
Houston has just two away games this week, beginning with the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.