For the record, it doesn't appear the Rockets are ready to slow down from their torrid post-break run just yet. They've reached sea level with a 31-31 record, and they managed to complete their ascension to the middle with as inspiring a performance as we have seen from them all season.
Kyle Lowry had all of the answers Tuesday night. He cracked any defensive code thrown his way and made the Blazers look bad for trying. Chief of all victories for Houston was that for every solution that Lowry came across in running the Rockets' offense, LaMarcus Aldridge kept coming up empty in trying to figure out how to score on Chuck Hayes.
This was as complete a game as you're likely to see from the Rockets any time soon. They shot lights out from the field -- sixty percent, to be exact -- and while they did sink eight three pointers, the focus of Houston's scoring boom lay strictly in the pain. Most encouraging for the Rockets -- and perhaps most disturbing for Portland -- is that they managed to score 103 points despite only shooting eleven free throws. In other words, they attacked the rim and weren't met by much resistance. Heck, Kevin Martin took thirteen freebies the other night against New Orleans by himself. Let that soak in for a second.
(Note: If you didn't watch this game, you'll point out that Martin went 7-14 from the field and 3-7 from range and think, "He must be happy with that performance." Interestingly enough, all but one of Martin's misses from deep were on WIDE-OPEN shots. He's going to lose sleep over those clanks, despite the solid numbers.)
If Lowry gets tonight's MVP award after going for 21 points, 11 assists, four rebounds and two steals, the Chuckwagon can certainly settle for second on the totem pole. He gave Aldridge fits all night long and from every possible spot on the floor. If Aldridge felt he could use his height to shoot over Hayes, the long arms of The Wagon bothered LaMarcus' jumper enough to render it useless. If Aldridge decided to face up and drive to the rim, Hayes kept his giant hands on top of the ball, preventing Aldridge from hoisting up anything that had a chance to fall. It was textbook defense against one of the league's hottest players. Kudos to you, Chuck. Love that behind the back pass.
Courtney Lee and Patrick Patterson apparently aren't aware that SlamBall has ceased to exist. Each kept flying through the lane to grab an offensive rebound, snag a lose ball or dunk home a missed shot. Goran Dragic, while quiet in the box score, came out swinging as well. The bench was ACTIVE. The bench was FIERCE and SEEMINGLY PISSED OFF. IT. WAS. ALIVE.
(Second note: Dragic looks as if he will commit a foul unless it's absolutely necessary that he refrains from doing so. He picked up four fouls in six minutes tonight. Even Hasheem Thabeet doesn't understand this.)
Chase Budinger, you old sport. At one point this season, I called out your confidence, yet now you've given me a reason to attribute "swag" to a white American wing player. The dunks are swagtastic, the dribble-drives are swagulous and the defense isn't as swag-less as I once thought it might be. Well done, sir. Swaggggg.
Terrence Williams. Dude. You need to ask Chase for some of that swag, because you won't find any in fadeaway jumpers. Stop looking there, please.
To add to the list of phenomenal achievements on the night, how about the lights-out defense? Holding Portland to 87 points might have been an easy feat a few years back -- perhaps even last season -- but to keep this bubbling young offensive machine below 90? That's very, very impressive. It all started with the clamps put on Aldridge. The Rockets even held Patty "Angry Birds" Mills to eight points, which is something of a victory given the damage he has done against Houston this season. Wesley Matthews was held to 2-10 shooting and Brandon Roy finished 2-7. That can't be overlooked, either.
Enjoy this win, Rockets fans. You can still hold onto your dreams of keeping Nic Batum if you'd like (he led Portland with 22 points), but we all know that trade to bring Ron Artest to Houston was the right call at the time. Anyhow, here's hoping the team can keep up this streak. If we make the playoffs, great. If we don't, that's fine. The difference in a 14th overall pick and a 16th overall pick really doesn't matter to me all that much. Let's make this push for the eighth seed something around which we can come together. If it's going to happen, it will start with defense. No matter how perfect Kyle Lowry can be at all times, and no matter how many good shooters this team possesses, I have a feeling that we won't be seeing another swish-fest like this one again.