The Knicks limped into Portland on Thursday, and were forced to give it a go against the Blazers without their two All-Stars. The result was pretty much what you would have expected.
New York was dropped by the Blazers 105-90, thanks to a stellar 26 point, 10 rebound performance from Damian Lillard, the runaway candidate to take home Rookie of the Year honors this season.
Carmelo Anthony missed this one after testing his knee in Denver, before flying back to New York to have it drained. He’s considered questionable for Sunday against the Clippers, as is Tyson Chandler, who also sat this one out with what was being called a left knee contusion.
With New York’s main offensive option sidelined, the bulk of the scoring landed on the shoulders of J.R. Smith, who led all scorers with 33 points. Most of the damage he did was in the fourth quarter, however, while trying to drag his team back from a 16-point deficit. And actually, he came pretty close.
Smith had 18 points in the final period, and scored 11 straight for his team to bring the Knicks to within four with just under eight minutes remaining.
That’s all the fight New York could muster, as Portland immediately responded with a 15-2 run to regain control, and push the lead to as many as 17 before the game was through.
Raymond Felton returned to Portland for the first time since suffering through a brutal season with the Blazers last year, one that ended with the fans and local media essentially scapegoating him for everything that went wrong a season ago.
Felton was greeted with more boos than Anthony received in Denver the night before, and finished with an ineffective 11 points on 4-12 shooting in 29 minutes of action.
This game was about Lillard, and how he once again showed an ability beyond his years to step up as a leader for his team. He finished 11-18 from the field, but knocked down all seven of his attempts inside the three-point arc. If you want to nitpick, 11 of his shot attempts came from three-point distance, as did all seven of his misses on the night.
But the ones he made were huge, including two in the fourth that pushed the Blazers’ lead back to nine, and then up to 15 as Portland began to close the Knicks out.
The patience will come to Lillard as he matures in his career, and the threes relatively early in the shot clock may be a function of the lack of a variety of other options on this Blazers team as currently constructed — and, it’s possible those shots might even be endorsed by the team’s coaching staff.
On the Knicks side, they know what they have when all of their pieces are in place. Without Anthony and Chandler, however, New York is decidedly below average.