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Lillard Leads Trail Blazers To 105-90 Win Over Knicks

03/15/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    Behind 26 points and 10 assists from Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers (30-34) were able to take care of business against a shorthanded New York Knicks (38-24) team by the final score of 105-90. The Trail Blazers struggled in the early going but were able to find their footing and get the win.

    Before the game, there was a lot of conversation surrounding things that had very little to do with the game that was going to be played. Possibly the biggest story for the Trail Blazers side, was the availability of LaMarcus Aldridge, who had missed the past practice and shoot around due to migraine headaches. News broke shortly before tip-off that he would play. Aldridge had a monster game, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to go along with five blocks. However, despite the big games from Aldridge and Lillard, it wasn't smooth sailing.

    Obviously, the return of Raymond Felton to Portland was on the mind of many, especially the fans, who booed Felton when he was introduced and on every time he touched the basketball.

    "It was what I expected. Some boos. Boos the whole time actually. It made me laugh," Felton said.

    While the anti-Felton energy against gave the Rose Garden an atmosphere, the Trail Blazers themselves seemed to lack motivation on the defensive end. They were playing well on offense, but the intensity wasn't there on the other end as New York's pick and roll was giving the Trail Blazers trouble. The Knicks shot 62 percent in the first quarter and they only hit one three, as a team that makes a living on the perimeter was suddenly living in the paint.

    "Maybe it's because we relaxed a little bit," said Nicolas Batum, who had a more aggressive performance tonight scoring 16 points while hitting four threes and dishing six assists, "because they've got no 'Melo (Anthony), no Amar'e (Stoudemire), no Tyson (Chandler) so we said maybe it was going to be easy. But they play, this team can play. J-Kidd can play, Camby can play, J.R Smith can play."

    And the Knicks, came out to fast start and got confidence, as evidenced by their shooting numbers in the first two quarters. The worst thing you can do against a wounded opponent is give them belief, and the Trail Blazers gave the Knicks plenty, for a least the first 20 minutes.

    "They had a spacing line-up. They had four shooters out there with Camby and that creates a problem," Stotts said of the schematics of the effective New York pick and rolls in the first half. "You go back to the days of the Phoenix Suns and Nash and Stoudemire, it creates a problem. Sometimes we committed too much to the ball, and that gave the roll guy. You're afraid to leave Steve Novak on the weak side. There was probably about four or five possessions that we didn't handle very well. That's part of one of the benefits of playing a shooting line-up."

    Stotts tried to match the Knicks small line-up with one of his own, but conceded that it didn't work very well, and went back to his bigger line-up with Aldridge and Hickson.

    "Now we start to really play like we have to play and I think was better for us," said Batum.

    Suddenly, it was as if the Trail Blazers had just then shown up. They got stops, they ran the ball up and down the court with Lillard and the Trail Blazers running in concert with great ball movement. In the final 3:43, the Trail Blazers were finally able to push the pace on the older, shorthanded and slower-paced team. It resulted in a 13-0 run to close the quarter and give the Trail Blazers a three-point lead at halftime after being outplayed for the first 20 minutes of the game.

    "What we were talking about and wanted to do, we were finally able to do it and we saw that it really worked in our favor," Lillard said of getting the Trail Blazers getting out in the open court. "I think that was how we were able to keep the lead."

    Lillard was especially big in the run as his play helped ignite the Trail Blazers offensive flow. He had 11 points and seven assists at halftime. Nicolas Batum was very aggressive and removed his wrist brace to fruitful results as continues to work through his wrist injury. Aldridge, playing through his migraine, which he has never had before, was a rock. But, as has been the case, the rookie just stole the show.

    The Trail Blazers kept doing their thing in the second half with Lillard leading the charge and the ball moving around the court like a pinball. The Trail Blazers outscored the Knicks by 13 in the third quarter and Lillard led the way in that period, adding to his point total. Aldridge was protecting the paint and the Trail Blazers weren't letting the Knicks get set. As Batum said, they played their game, and the results were positive.

    Lillard kept up his fantastic play in the month of March as he scored 20 points for the eighth straight game, one short of the franchise record set by Calvin Natt in the 1980 season. Lillard is averaging 23.3 points since the All-Star break as it seems he only continues to improve statistically since the arrival of Eric Maynor.

    J.R. Smith, who finished 33 points on the night, made a personal 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter and with 7:59 in the fourth, the Knicks cut the Trail Blazers lead to as much as four.

    "I didn't think they'd overtake us but I didn't want to turn in to a dog fight," Lillard said of their late push.

    Aldridge got a basket in transition and Lillard hit a three-pointer on the ensuing possession and from then on it was smooth sailing as the Trail Blazers continued to run the ball up the court.

    While Felton's arrival and the Knicks being shorthanded took away from the focus in the early going, the Trail Blazers were able to find their game and snatch a win that was sitting there waiting to be had. Also, with a loss by the Mavericks, the Trail Blazers are now tied with them, sitting three games back of the eighth and final playoff spot, as a small glimmer of playoff hope remains.

    The Trail Blazers will take on the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night at the Rose Garden as their final game of this three-game homestand. Tip-off is set for 7PM and the game will be shown on CSNNW and it can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.





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