PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The NBA’s hottest team has found a home on the road.
Houston won its ninth consecutive game after James Harden scored 48 points and the Rockets rallied from 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 124-117 on Saturday night.
The Rockets, who trailed for most of the game, won their eighth consecutive road game, running their season road record to 12-1. It is Houston’s best road start since the 1996-97 season.
“We’re riding high right now. That’s great. We know we’ll have some bumps. We have a lot of things to figure out, but we just keep getting better and grinding it out,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.
Houston took a good punch from Portland, which was trying to end a three-game home court losing streak. Damian Lillard tied a franchise record with nine 3-pointers and scored 35 points, while C.J. McCollum had 28 for the Blazers (13-12).
“It was disappointing to lose. . We had a lot of good efforts from a lot of different players. It was good to be in a game at the end against a really good team,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.
Houston hasn’t had a close game in a while, particularly with Paul returning to action from an early season knee injury. That changed Saturday as Portland built a 98-84 lead after three quarters, though Lillard started the fourth quarter with an ice bag on his right foot after limping to the bench.
Houston went to a small lineup, and punished Portland’s defense with 1-on-1 offense. The Rockets hit 15 of 18 shots, and Harden and Paul combined to score 25 of the team’s 40 fourth-quarter points.
“Me and James were talking about how cool it was. I went a few times and then he got to go a few times. It was fun that we got to play off of each other like that,” Paul said.
Harden went 6 of 7 during the fourth quarter, including five layups.
“We went small and they had to adjust to us . once they did that, we had shooters on the court and the lane was wide open. So it was layup, layup, layup, 3-ball,” Harden said.
With Lillard’s foot on ice, Houston launched a rally, pulling to 103-98 when Lillard returned with 7 minutes remaining. But the Rockets had momentum, and took a 110-109 lead on Ariza’s 3-pointer.
The Rockets never trailed again, outscoring Portland 14-6 during the final 3 minutes.
“It took everything we had to beat them,” D’Antoni said.
The Blazers, eager not to finish a home stand 0-4, were aggressive early, as Lillard hit two 3-pointers but also drew two fouls during the first 3 minutes. Midway through the first quarter, Lillard stepped in front of Paul and earned a charging foul, touching off a battle of words that resulted in technicals to Portland’s Meyers Leonard and Paul.
Lillard’s 3-pointer gave Portland its largest lead of the first half at 57-46, but Houston outscored the Blazers 16-5 during the final 5:37 to pull even at 62 at halftime.