Hanging by a thread takes its toll after a while.
It's draining, both physically and emotionally. That not only describes how Portland looked on Monday at the Rose Garden, but how they've appeared on too many nights recently in this final stretch of this condensed 66-game NBA season.
Playing without Nicolas Batum, who was resting his overworked left knee, the Blazers simply couldn't have a night where they were out of sync offensively and key outside shooters were off the mark, and live to tell about it. They didn't.
This was a night where they needed to be sharp offensively, going up against one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference. They weren't, and Houston made them pay, time and time again.
The Rockets, who were looking to finish off a perfect 4-0 road trip and continue their great late-season run in the west, didn't take full advantage of what Portland gave them on this night, but did enough to deliver the knockout punch late in this game, and won it 94-89. The Blazers led 5-3 early, and tied the score twice in the third quarter, but never got the momentum basket to carry them over the top.
It felt for a while like this was game was sitting there for them to steal, but as soon as those opportunities would present themselves, a missed shot or a turnover, or a bad possession would doom them. There were plenty of missed open shots, fast-break situations that they didn't complete, and simple rebounds that they just couldn't get to. The Rockets, road-weary, but riding enough of a wave of confidence, had enough answers to finally put the Blazers to bed.
Portland was shooting in the mid-30 percent range most of the night, but rallied to get that number to 40 percent by the end of the night. Their outside shooters just needed to come up with a few more timely makes to get them in a position to strike. As it was, Jamal Crawford (who got the start in Batum's place), and Wesley Matthews, were a combined 7 for 25, and as a team the Blazers were just 6 for 21 from behind the three-point line.
For Houston, Goran Dragic, who was named the Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday, did just enough to snuff out every Portland charge. He scored 22 points, on 8 of 14 shooting, and also dished out 7 assists. Yes, he'll be a free agent this summer. Yes, I expect Portland to go after him in a big way. In my opinion, he's a much more realistic option for the Blazers, and I think he'd be perfect addition to this team. He's never been handed the keys to a team, playing behind Steve Nash in Phoenix, and behind Kyle Lowry in Houston. But, he's ready to be put in the driver's seat to run a team.
For the Trail Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge did what he could to keep his team within striking distance on this night. He scored 20 points, but had only 6 rebounds. He was helped by J.J. Hickson, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Raymond Felton had a fairly solid game with 14 points and 8 assists, but this was simply a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions as we count down to the end of the season.
Portland continues this final multi-game home stand of the season on Wednesday night when the Golden State Warriors come to town. Then, on Friday, Dallas will be in Portland. After that it's at Sacramento and at Phoenix, before the Blazers host Utah in their final home game of the season on the 18th. What follows that is a brutal final three games. Portland will play at Memphis, at San Antonio, and at Utah to close things out. We've said all season, you better not be in a position to have to need a run of wins in the final two weeks to make it into the post season, because that's not the place to get them. But, that's right where they are- needing perfection to have a chance.
Talk to you Wednesday.