Rockets 118, Trail Blazers 103

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- With the All-Star Game near, Rockets guard James Harden took another step toward cementing his superstar status, leading Houston to a 118-103 win over Portland Friday night at Toyota Center.
Harden connected on his first nine shots en route to a team-high 35 points. He also paced the Rockets with 11 assists to cap a week that included a triple-double on Saturday against the Bobcats, and a 36-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist effort at Miami on Wednesday night.
The Rockets (28-24) needed his brilliance.
Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge had 31 points and 11 rebounds, extending an impressive streak of 20-point games at Toyota Center to 10. Rookie guard Damian Lillard added 18 points while forward Nicolas Batum scored 21 of his 24 points in the second half to keep Portland (25-25) afloat -- for a while.
After matching the NBA single-game record of 23 3-pointers on Tuesday night against the Warriors, the Rockets maintained their torrid shooting. Their effective field goal percentage, a stat incorporating the value of 3-pointers relative to shots inside the arc, hovered above an astounding 70 percent deep into the fourth quarter. Houston finished 12-for-26 from deep against the Blazers and shot 60.3 percent overall.
As he has so often been during his first season in Houston, Harden was the linchpin. He had 20 points on 8-for-8 shooting by the intermission, and his eight first-half assists came against only one turnover.
Even when Harden finally missed, something positive happened for the Rockets as forward Patrick Patterson converted an errant 17-footer into a dunk for an 82-69 lead with 4:30 left in the third period.
The Blazers defeated the Rockets in overtime in both previous meetings this season. This time Houston held on, with forward Chandler Parsons supporting Harden by chipping in 20 points. Patterson added 16 points.
NOTES: No team in the NBA is more dependent upon the production of its starters than the Trail Blazers, whose quintet of Aldridge, Batum, Lillard, Wesley Matthews and JJ Hickson account for 85.4 percent of the Blazers' scoring. Lillard (a rookie), Batum and Aldridge shoulder an especially heavy load, ranking a respective fourth, fifth and 11th in the league in minutes played. "The guys who are important to their teams play a lot of minutes; they play 37, 38 minutes (per game)," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "We happen to have three or four of those guys." ... Hickson has been a pleasant surprise for Portland despite playing out of position at center. He ranks fifth in the NBA in rebound rate at 20.9 percent, well above his previous high of 17.7 percent set with Cleveland in 2010-11. "He gives them energy, he really hits the boards well," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "He runs and gets easy baskets for them. He does a lot of good stuff."

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