Mar 14

Blazers Keep the Door Open

By mikebarrett Posted in: Knicks
Yes, it's still going to be very much an uphill battle for this team to fight back into the top eight in the Western Conference and make the playoffs, but the Trail Blazers continue to say they're not dead and won't stop fighting.  Thursday night at the Rose Garden they did what they had to do- they beat the shorthanded New York Knicks, 105-90.

Exactly one year ago tonight was the low point in what turned out to be a very frustrating season. The Blazers were blown out by the Knicks at Madison Square Garden 121-79.  I can tell you from experience, that was a long flight that night to Chicago.  And the following day, trade-deadline day, came the shake up we figured was coming. Nate McMillan was fired, and the veteran core of the team was sent away.

When you say it like that, and remember back, it seems like a lot longer than a year ago, actually.  

As bad as it all felt that day, we've quickly (yes, just one year is very quick in this league) come to be thankful it all went down the way it did.  Of course, that was the day the Blazers acquired the draft pick that would turn into Damian Lillard.

What I wonder now is, had Portland beat the Knicks that night, and beat them soundly, would that have changed anything that happened the next day?  Would the trades still have been made? Or, would a big win have caused management to pause, and to perhaps wait?  We knew big changes would be coming at some point, but did the embarrassing loss push the Blazers to rip the band-aid off quickly, rather than decide to sit quietly and bleed out with the wound covered?

We'll probably never know.  But, what we do know is that it's sure a lot more fun to be headed up the mountain than sliding down the other side. 

This, of course, is very fresh in our minds on this night.  Not only because the Blazers were playing the Knicks again, but because Raymond Felton, the guy many fans held responsible for last season's misery, was back in front of us.  He survived that trade-deadline day last season, but didn't survive the summer.

In Felton's place for the Blazers is one of the most dynamic rookie point guards this league has seen in years.  He's tremendous on the court, and even better off of it.  Lillard, on Thursday night, made me think back on that night one year ago with warm feelings.  I cursed it then, and absolutely count my NBA blessings now.

I'm not here to pile on Felton.  The fans at the Rose Garden let him have it, and rightly so.  Now it's over, and so is that time.  It was liking seeing your ex for the first time, and realizing you're so much better off now.  It also helps if you let yourself realize that if not for that struggle, even as painful as it was, you wouldn't be where you are now had you not gone through it.  Felton's better off too, but I don't care much about that.  What I care about is Lillard and the direction of this team, whether or not that includes playoff games this season.

Lillard shot down the Knicks in New York on New Year's Day, and tonight beat them again, scoring 26 points, on 11 of 18 shooting, and dished out 10 assists.  Felton was 4 of 12 and scored 11 points.  

But, as much as we wanted this to be about the past vs. the present, Lillard vs. Felton, it wasn't. We already know what we have vs. what we had, no matter the outcome of this game.  No one was surprised Lillard soundly outplayed Felton.  The Blazers simply needed a win to continue on this journey, and to continue this growth process.  Staying in this playoff race, no matter how long the odds, is vital to the process.  That's why I hope it continues for as long as it mathematically can.  These young guys need to experience March and April NBA basketball that means something.

In a strange way, this game had me very worried all day.  I always feel that way when star players are out and the x-factor enters into the equation.  How could have you possibly have scouted the team New York put on the floor?  That's dangerous, and the guy who kept popping into my mind all day was J.R. Smith.  He's talented enough to get on a roll and just about beat you single-handedly.  

Well, Smith had 33 off the bench, but once the Blazers settled down and started to figure out this version of the Knicks, they took control.  As you know if you watched it, the turning point came just before halftime.  The Blazers ripped off a 13-0 run going into the break and things were never really in doubt after that.

LaMarcus Aldridge had as much to say about this Portland win as Lillard, despite the fact that my storyline involved only the point guards.  Aldridge, who's been battling a bad migraine, fought the bright lights, loud crowd, the distractions, and posted an all-star-type game.  He ended with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots.  It was Aldridge's 30th double-double of the season.  

JJ Hickson now has 36 double-doubles.  He had 12 points and 16 rebounds.  No other two teammates in the NBA have combined for 66 double-doubles this season.

Blazer fans also saw the old Nic Batum in this game.  He has decided to just remove the wrist brace, fight the pain, and get back to work.  Batum had 16 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds. Just seeing him actually attempt 10 shots was refreshing.

Wesley Matthews was the other Blazer starter in double figures, as he went for 14 points and 5 rebounds.

Back to Lillard.  He has now scored at least 20 points in eight-straight games.  That's the longest such streak for a Blazer rookie since Calvin Natt did it nine-straight times in 1980.  Damian also now has 34 games of 20 or more on the season.  That ranks 10th in the NBA- not among rookies, but among all players.

This was also Lillard's fourth 20-point, 10-assist game.  No other rookie this year in the NBA has one such game.  Lillard is now the fastest NBA player (64 career games) to reach 1,200 points and 400 assists in a season since Allen Iverson in 1997.

You want one more?  Only three other NBA players this season have at least 1,200 points and 400 assists- LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Steph Curry.

That's pretty good company.

That's a pretty good future.

And, that's a pretty good bounce-back 365 days since Portland's last loss to New York.



  1. Tremendous win! There was a Knick fan sitting right in front of me, yelling her head off - until late in the second quarter and then she never really got a chance again except for that brief period near the beginning of the fourth! The way the Blazers played "defense" for about the first twenty minutes, I thought it was going to be a long, frustrating night, but the Blazers finally got that in gear and then there was no stopping them.

    by dockaren on 3/14/2013 11:44 PM
  2. Mike that was a fantastic game, not the win as much as the determination to keep battling up hill. NYK didn't by any means play a bad game, they really just got beat at their own game.

    To make it to the play-offs we need a lot of things to go right from here on out. But the NOH loss with everybody we were fighting with loss too may have been a big factor of where we are today, with Dallas getting beat tonight, with Kobe going to miss games with a knee, with Utah sliding along with GSW, anything can happen. But the main thing is we are still in the pack.

    by Hg on 3/15/2013 1:06 AM
  3. Mike, you brought up the uphill battle that we have been in all year and yes it is the only way to improve. get in the games and start clawing. Many of us has critique the Blazers for their sometimes horrible games and then praised them for astonishing SAS games. To put my 2 cents in, I remember Dave of Blazer edge explaining last year, going up hill constantly will make you stronger, but if the fight is equivalent to pushing a car up hill all day, then it is necessary to block the tires, get off the road for a few and just rest. That would be a reason for those horrible games. Then with the rest, more energy, the team can go faster with the push for a while, and that accounts for the astonishing games, Plus we have so many newbies, that they didn't fully have the knowledge of how to put your shoulder to the back of the car and push in unison with the rest of the team. NOW, The newbies are getting with it better, we are stronger and wiser so we can keep going for a while, then when help comes in a trade, draft or FA, then we will be strong enough to make the uphill struggle not so rough. Until help comes, we just need to keep pushing and battling with our aching bodies as in Batum and Wesley and LaMarcus migraine.

    by Hg on 3/15/2013 1:18 AM
  4. What I love is not only did Lillard do it again, but he did it "AGAIN" on the national stage.

    Shaq said after the game during "Inside the NBA":

    "Listen up to all you at home. I know you love your LeBron, I know you love your Kobe. But put Lillard on your list."

    That's quite a statement from a former prestigious NBA player. It's fun to see Lillard do this after all the research I did on Lillard last April and made it known on this blog well before the draft that I wanted Lillard and I wanted the Blazers to sign Steve Nash to mentor him. Turns out there was no need to be mentored. But it was really fun to get into all the research I did on players since I knew the possibility of getting that 6th pick of the lotto balls didn't betray us and Lillard was the only guy I was excited about in a list of players I knew we had a chance of drafting.

    by Shem on 3/15/2013 1:52 AM
  5. Excellent game! Loved Lillard running Felton out of the building! Heck, I was the first fan to want Lillard, I wanted him before he was even conceived! :)

    by mgb on 3/15/2013 5:14 AM
  6. Everything that was wrong about last year is right about this year. It has nothing to do with wins and losses.

    by the golden ladder on 3/15/2013 6:24 AM
  7. I often wonder if the Blazers can play shut down defense (here starting half way through the 2nd quarter) why they don't play that way at the start of the game. How much more rest would the starlters get for that effort?

    by Ancientone on 3/15/2013 6:43 AM
  8. Ancientone: Do you think without a quality bench that we can play lock down defense the whole game? Isn't the game more about adjustments and counter adjustments? If we put out the best at the beginning of the game and they were able to adjust to that, what else could we counter adjust? Clyde said a team needs a variety of different offenses and defenses to keep teams guessing, what do you think?

    I will raid the fridge while you dig through your cobwebs to answer my questions, if you so choose to accept the mission.

    by Hg on 3/15/2013 8:33 AM
  9. Hg, I think part has to do with age of the Knicks, they are stronger at the start of games, and part is the injuries making the Knicks harder to scout so it takes a little while to get a handle on them.

    by mgb on 3/15/2013 9:04 AM
  10. @mgb: I do agree with that, but the Blazers has been guilty of starting out slow all year. Outlaw said when he was playing for us, that we waited until we knew their game plan and then sneak up on them. Lillard and BRoy kind of lulled the opponents in the first half then when the defense tightened up they exploded.
    So back to Ancientone's question, What if we started out the game with lock-down D, wold it give us an easier win, rather then playing the 6 point or less scary game?

    by Hg on 3/15/2013 9:36 AM
  11. When you develope a lead early you have more versatiliy in what you con do with your 2d group making them more apt to be sucessful.

    by Ancientone on 3/15/2013 10:30 AM

    by DamianLilard on 3/15/2013 10:41 AM
  13. @Ancientone, that does make sense, but like a long race, there is slow starters and strong finishers and fast starters and slow finishers, and once in a while you get a one like the spurs that starts fasts keep the pace in the middle and finish fast. That surely would be ideal. Do you suppose we could sell that to the team?

    by Hg on 3/15/2013 11:22 AM
  14. by Hg on 3/15/2013 11:22 AM
  15. All the close games have caught up to the Blazers. It's good and bad. The Blazers looked slow last night. New York brought an inferior team to Portland. Our boys are tired. The close games have drained them. The starters have carried a heavy load.
    What is good about it is we kept our focus. There is no panic to this team. They went about their business and kept the task at hand close. The close games have taught them valuable lessons.
    Throw away the wrist wrap.
    Get Victor back in the gym.
    You are right Mike. Our young guys need to taste what March and April are like. Nice if they could get a taste of a playoff game. It's a entirely different level.
    What a fun season it has been. I am proud of our guys.

    by Divotking on 3/15/2013 3:32 PM
  16. well stated MB.
    Go Trailblazers.
    Wow DLill!
    Wow LA!
    Hey Batum...step up to the hoop and get going or you might be replaced.
    Well done men!

    by allie-oop on 3/15/2013 6:49 PM
  17. I thought we played well too, after the first 18+ minutes that is. Not to throw cold water here but do we really win that game if the Knicks are at full strength? Doubtful...

    by dgpdx on 3/15/2013 8:12 PM
  18. @Don: would we win that game with Batum full strength, Wesley on two legs, Victor back full strength and Leonard back in full strength, I think so.

    And if you are saying that if the Knicks are at full strength you would have to say without their age and Portland without age not being a factor.

    Not picking on you buddy, but there are millions of what ifs, at the end it is what it is and that was a very entertaining NBA game.

    by Hg on 3/16/2013 12:34 AM
  19. A blog after a TNT game. Is that a first?
    I like the photo you attached to the blog. Wesley is my guy.

    by the golden ladder on 3/16/2013 11:50 AM
  20. Hg: You make good points, buddy. Thanks for the corrections.

    by dgpdx on 3/17/2013 9:06 PM
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