The Portland Trail Blazers are riding a 13-game winning streak. The Houston Rockets have the best record in the NBA. For those reasons alone, Tuesday night’s headliner is sure to have fireworks. But there’s a fold in the Blazers-Rockets dynamic that might give each team an extra push to one-up their opponent.
The Rockets are 2-0 in their season series against the Trail Blazers, but things got a little chippy down the stretch of their Jan. 10 matchup.
Houston held a seven-point lead with only a few seconds left. As a sign of respect, it’s the norm in the NBA to dribble the clock out when the opponent can’t possibly make a comeback on the final possession.
Instead of dribbling the clock out, however, the Rockets got a bucket. Trevor Ariza found Chris Paul, who drove to the paint and got an easy layup. That sign of disrespect frustrated Damian Lillard, who approached Paul with some words before attempting to smack the ball out of his hands.
“I just asked him, I said, ‘What did you get out of that?’” Lillard said, according to The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman. “He said, ‘Y’all wasn’t guarding.’ But we got back. There was two guys back. We got back. He was sprinting the court to get the layup and CJ (McCollum) was chasing him. I just felt like in that situation, if you’ve got to do that to go get the layup, what’s the point of it?
“I think as far as sportsmanship goes and respect, if the roles were reversed, I don’t think they would like it,” he continued. “They had two guys up the floor. I think (Shabazz Napier) ran back, I ran back for that reason ... we get two guys back and he pretty much sprinted down the court to get the layup. CJ was chasing him. At that point, you just wonder, like, what is that going to do for you? What was you trying to get right there? And that’s what I asked him.”
Lillard further explained his frustration when he and McCollum sat down for a conversation with ESPN’s Chris Haynes last month. He explained that during his rookie year, he made the mistake of dunking on a final possession when there was no one back on defense. He made that error against the Chicago Bulls, infuriating Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Nate Robinson had to pull Lillard aside and explain what he did was wrong.
“I felt bad,” he said. “That’s like a slap in the face to them. The game is over.”
Tuesday night, the Blazers and Rockets will play each other for the first time since their little SNAFU in early January. Is this some serious, bad-blood level beef? No. It’s probably not that deep.
But there’s no way Portland will forget Paul’s last-second basket, especially not riding a 13-game winning streak with a shot at taking down the best team in the league.
“I should have chased him down and fouled him,” McCollum said back on Jan. 10. “I was behind him. I didn’t think he was going to lay it up. But it is what it is. It’s the NBA. Would I have done it? I don’t know. I haven’t been in that situation.
”If I get a chance to do it, I’m going to dunk it. I hope it’s against the Rockets.”
Or maybe it’s as simple as the duo of Blazers guards told Haynes.
McCollum: “Let’s put it like this. Ain’t gonna be anymore layups. Not if I’m around.
Lillard: “Just know, we’re gonna play until zero is on the clock.