Lots of Lillard
When Damian Lillard is really good, the Trail Blazers have a chance against any opponent.
When they're facing the worst team in the NBA, odds are pretty high that good things will happen.
Lillard bombed in 31 points in 29 minutes — 17 points in the first quarter, 25 in the first half — and Portland ran away with its most one-sided victory of the season, a 115-87 pasting of the hapless New York Knicks Tuesday night at Moda Center.
"Those kind of games feel good," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "I liked our demeanor from the outset. 'Dame' had a nice rhythm to his shot, and he did a nice job of managing the game. It was a game we needed to get."
The Blazers (10-15) need to get a lot more wins if they are to climb into the playoff picture in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for them, they won't often get to face cannon fodder the likes of the Knicks (4-20), who have now lost 10 games in a row, the last two under interim head coach Mike Miller following the firing of David Fizdale.
To their credit, the Blazers didn't take the game for granted.
"It was a team we felt like we should beat on our home floor," Lillard said. "But I liked our approach, not looking at it like it was going to be an easy game. We respected our opponent. We did the right things defensively. Offensively, we executed as well as we have for awhile — maybe all season.
"Everybody came into the game tonight with the right mentality. Everybody was focused and sharp. It showed in our performance."
Lillard was en fuego from the onset, hitting 6 of 8 shots, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range, to stake the Blazers to a 32-22 lead after one quarter. The difference was 60-41 at the half, and the Knicks had little fight in them the rest of the way.
The game was won at the 3-point line, with Portland hitting 17 of 41 attempts (.415) and New York burying only 7 of 38 (.184). The Blazers shot .433 from the field, the Knicks .352.
Lillard finished with 9-for-15 shooting, including 8 for 12 from 3-point range.
"He made a lot of shots, generated a lot of offense," Miller said. "Part of that, too, was the fact that we were not making shots and he was. It kind of spiraled on us a little bit."
A lot, really.
Lillard had some help, notably from Hassan Whiteside (17 points on 7-for-11 shooting, 15 rebounds, five blocked shots) and Anfernee Simons, who came off the bench to hit 5 of 9 shots — 4 of 7 from the 3-point line — and finish with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Stotts experimented a little, going big (the 7-1 Whiteside and 6-11 Skal Labissiere) and small (Lillard, Simons and CJ McCollum). The coach even used a zone defense for a couple of possessions.
"We've been struggling," Lillard said. "Why be afraid to try different things if what we've been doing has been giving us issues?
"You have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. As long as coach (Stotts) is doing that, when he puts us in those positions and we do it with confidence, it's going to have a chance to work. That's all that counts."
The Blazers, 5-6 at home and 5-9 on the road, visit Pepsi Center Thursday night to face Denver (14-8), which lost 97-92 Tuesday night at Philadelphia.
"It's definitely an important game, being in the same conference," said Carmelo Anthony, who scored 16 points but was only 5 for 13 from the field against the Knicks. "With what we're trying to accomplish, those guys coming off a loss tonight ... i'm sure they'll be ready in front of their home crowd. This will be a good one for us to go get on the road."
The Nuggets boast almost the same roster as they employed against Portland in the Western Conference semifinals last season. The Blazers' current roster has only five players left from that series.
"They're the same team we played in the playoffs, the same team that got us to Game 7," Stotts said. "We're not the same team. It'll be different. They're a good team. They're at their place. It'll be a challenge."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.