The shorthanded Knicks played about as hard as they could despite missing all three of their star players, but it wasn’t enough, as they fell to the Trail Blazers, 105-90.
Unlike Wednesday night’s debacle in Denver, the Knicks (38-25) never appeared to phone it in, even when the deficit reached as large as 17 points. Portland (30-34) possesses as solid a starting unit as any team in the league — but a weak bench — and it showed as they scored 90 of their points. The Knicks were the opposite, as their makeshift starting lineup was overmatched for most of the game.
J.R. Smith, who had no qualms about questioning his team’s motivation following two porous performances to start their West Coast road trip, backed up his talk with a solid performance off the bench with a game-high 33 points — including a fourth-quarter stretch where he scored 11-straight points for the Knicks.
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough for a Knicks squad that was missing Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler — and later Kenyon Martin (bone contusion in the knee) — as Portland’s starting unit was more than enough. Rookie of the Year shoo-in Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 26 points and 10 assists, while All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge added 22 points, 10 rebounds and a game-high five blocks. Lillard has now recorded at least 20 points in eight-straight games, as he helped Portland earn the season-series sweep of the Knicks.
The Knicks might’ve not quit this time, but it didn’t prevent them from being blown out for the third consecutive game during this crucial road trip, as their Atlantic Division lead shrinks with each passing defeat.
What we learned
1. Bench mob
Smith publicly questioned the team’s collective heart following Wednesday night’s embarrassing loss in Denver, but he had to have been pleased to see his squad respond in Thursday night’s matchup — particularly the bench. New York’s reserves accounted for 46 points in the losing effort, outscoring Portland’s thin bench by 31 points.
2. Running away with things
The Blazers used multiple runs in the game, but none more damaging than the 16-2 run midway through the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 17 points. Lillard had a key and-1 conversion, Aldridge knocked down a couple of key buckets and the defense locked up the Knicks’ Smith-dependent offense down the stretch to finally pull away from a competitive — if undermanned — squad.
3. Three not the magic number
As per their team’s makeup, the Knicks tried to live by the 3-point shot, but they ultimately died by it. All but Smith (4-of-8) shot poorly from behind the arc, as the Knicks shot a collective 28 percent. Jason Kidd was the biggest bricklayer as he shot 1-of-7 from 3-point range in 34 minutes of action.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.