The 324 Report (11/27/16 v. Houston)

Summary of the match: The ever-lovable Houston Rockets beat the Blazers 130-114, notching a season-high point total and hitting 17-36 from 3-point range. The game was generally close throughout (tied after 1; HOU +3 after 2; HOU +3 after 3), but Houston put together a 14-4 run in the fourth that was the deciding spurt, dropping Portland back below .500 in a seesaw the Blazers will likely be riding for the foreseeable future.

How great was Moe Harkless?: Really great. Hark continues to be a bright spot in an otherwise uninspiring stretch for the Blazers. 18 points (7-12, 2-4) and two steals in 38 minutes. He only had 3 rebounds, but that was mostly the result of being on Harden-duty for much of the night (more on Portland’s defense in a bit), drawing him away from the rim. Rebounds are pretty high variance against Houston anyway due to their high volume of perimeter shooting. It’s also generally hard to rebound when nobody is missing shots. Hark has now hit a 3 in 14 out of Portland’s last 15 games, and is now shooting 38% (!!!!!!!!!) for the year from deep. Get this man in the 3-point competition, is what I’m saying. He’s also very unafraid to tell a ref how he feels (https://twitter.com/pdxbrocialite/status/803090002015944704)

Was Evan Turner butt?: Eh, sort of. Mostly on defense. There was a stretch after he first checked in where he was driven past for a layup by Eric Gordon, didn’t matchup in transition, and executed an atrocious closeout that led to free throws (the bad closeouts are beginning to be a theme). He was much less butt on offense. He shot it well (6-12, 2-4), but his biggest contribution was collapsing the defense. Houston guards the perimeter reasonably well, and ET was able to get inside their shell a few times that led to some easy buckets and good looks off of a few passes (not reflected in his surprisingly low two-assist night). If he can continue to do that, and start not being a huge negative on D, he’ll be fine.

Other observations:

  • Whoa boy, Portland’s defense. They are now officially the worst defense in the league, surrendering 110 pts/100 possessions. They are 25th in the league in defending the 3-pointer. And they put their best defenders in really weird situations. Harkless was the primary defender on Harden, but Portland insists on switching everything, which led to pretty simple scenarios for Houston where they ended up with Plumlee and Ed Davis trying to defend Harden on the perimeter. Unsurprisingly, it was working quite well for Houston. Surprisingly, no adjustments were ever made by Portland. Portland is pretty set in their ways defending the PnR, switching and dropping guys to defend against dribble penetration. They’re just not a team that will blitz PnRs really ever. But Houston wore them out, running PnR on an astounding 42% of possessions, per Synergy. If the Blazers are going to switch and not blitz, then teams like Houston can basically name their score.
  • The Blazers did try to throw several defenders at Harden, with Hark, CJ, ET, and Crabbe each getting some run at him. None of it worked, but it was nice that they tried in the same way it’s nice when your dad tries to cook dinner.
  • James Harden really is ridiculous. Allowing him to be the primary ballhandler and orchestrating everything is so deadly and borderline unguardable. He’s having an equally impactful season as Russell Westbrook while trying half as hard. People knock his defense and turnovers. But his defense really isn’t as big of a negative as it’s made out to be, and he’ll always commit a decent number of TOs with how many possessions Houston gets. His assist/TO at this point is about 2/1 anyway.
  • Speaking of turnovers, Dame Lillard had 7, including TOs on three possessions in a row at one point. In fairness, one happened when an official basically knocked the ball out of his hands and out of bounds while running by him after trailing the play, giving the ball to Houston. Unsurprisingly, it was this official (https://twitter.com/pdxbrocialite/status/803090002015944704).
  • Portland did some weird lineup things, with Shabazz Napier (5 mins in the 1st/2nd qtr) and Jake Layman (6 mins in the 3rd/4th qtr) getting some meaningful minutes. Might’ve just been a matchup thing, and neither did anything relevant anyway.
  • Jake Layman and Sam Dekker were matched up against each other at one point. Neither impacted the game. That’s the country we’re living in now.
  • I’d like to see Allen Crabbe take more shots, or at least get on the floor with lineups where he’s a more primary scoring option. Five shots in 29 minutes is really not what I want for $19 million/year.
  • MEYERS LEONARD REGRESSION TO THE MEAN ALERT
  • The halftime show was just people doing Zumba. I guess 41 nights are hard to fill.

Whoopty do, what does it all mean, Basil?: This was a measuring stick game and the Blazers did not measure up. They’re now 0-3 this year at home against Western Conference teams that went to the playoffs last year, losing by an average of 16 pts/game. Maybe they shave off a few points per game defensively when Aminu gets back and if Festus Ezeli is ever healthy, but whatever effect that has it probably won’t be enough to go from bad to super relevant. This is basically a .500 team at this point until they prove otherwise, and every chance they’ve had to prove otherwise, they haven’t.

Next home game: 11/30/16 v. Indiana

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