Lillard leads Trail Blazers over Rockets

HOUSTON (AP) — After getting off to a disappointing start this season, the Portland Trail Blazers are focussed on playing much better going forward.

Yesterday against the Houston Rockets they did that, limiting James Harden to his fewest points of the season in a 117-107 win.

“A season is full of ups and downs and we’ve had more downs this year than ups, but it’s a whole second half of the season to play,” Damian Lillard said. “We executed and we played like we wanted to win the game … we’ve just got to try to sustain that.”

Lillard scored 25 points and CJ McCollum added 24 as the Trail Blazers withstood a late surge from the Rockets to get their second straight victory.

The Trail Blazers led by double figures for most of the game, but the Rockets began cutting into the lead in the fourth. A three by Ben McLemore got them within five with about five minutes to go.

But McCollum and Carmelo Anthony then made consecutive three-pointers for Portland to make it 111-100 with four minutes left, and Houston didn’t threaten again.

Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook looks for a shot as Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard reaches in. PHOTO: AP

When Hassan Whiteside made four points in a row, capped by a dunk, later in the fourth to make it 115-102, the home fans began streaming for the exits.

Russell Westbrook had a triple-double with 31 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds on a night when Harden scored 13 points. It was the fewest points Harden had scored since he had 10 against Minnesota on January 18, 2018.

Lillard was proud of the work they did against Harden, who entered the game averaging an NBA-best 37.8 points a game.

“We gave him a lot of attention and pretty much just made him give the ball up to other guys and decided were going to live with somebody else beating us,” Lillard said. “And it turned out to be a pretty good game plan.”

Houston lost consecutive games for the first time since a season-high three-game skid from November 20-24 last year, and has dropped three of its last four.

“Everyone goes through the tough times throughout the course of the year,” Harden said. “For us, this is now. We’ve got to come together and figure out what the problem is and go out there and try to fight through it.”

The Rockets had a tough shooting night after losing to Memphis 121-110 on the road on Tuesday night and shot just 39.6 per cent. Harden shot three of 12 and centre Clint Capela was just seven of 14.

Houston scored the first five points of the fourth quarter, but Portland got 3s from Gary Trent, Jr and Anthony Tolliver to make it 96-82.

McCollum made all of Portland’s points in a 6-3 spurt later in the fourth to leave the Trail Blazers up 102-88.

Westbrook was at the free throw line soon after that, and he and Lillard both received technical fouls for jawing at each other.

Houston finally found some rhythm on offence after that and used a 9-1 run, with 3s from P J Tucker and McLemore to cut the deficit to 103-97 midway through the quarter.

It was a nine-point game when the Rockets’ Danuel House made a layup midway through the third quarter, but Portland scored the next seven points, including a three from Kent Bazemore, to extend it to 81-65 two minutes later.