The returns of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire couldn’t lift the Knicks, as they dropped a 105-100 decision to the upstart Trail Blazers.
Although both made triumphant individual returns to the lineup — Anthony scored a season-high tying 45 points and Stoudemire inspired the faithful and his teammates with six points in 16 minutes — the common theme in yet another loss to a lesser team was that the once-vaunted defense allowed over 100 points.
“We’re not where we were in the beginning of the year, and we have to
get back to that,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “You can’t keep spotting teams 20-point leads and
think you’re going to come back all the time. There’s just been too much
of an uphill climb lately.”
Stellar rookie point guard Damian Lillard carried Portland (16-14) to the win with consistent big shots down the stretch, including a huge 3-pointer with 30 seconds remaining to give the Blazers a six-point lead. Lillard finished with 21 points (9-of-19 shooting), six assists and two steals as he outplayed veteran Knicks point guards Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni. The two have struggled as of late as they shoulder more of a burden with Raymond Felton out four-to-six weeks.
“[Lillard]’s phenomenal and probably the leading candidate for Rookie of
the Year,” Woodson said. “He’s very poised and in control of running
his team. I thought he did an excellent job controlling things.”
The Knicks (21-10) have continued the unsettling trend of getting out of the gates slowly at home, as they were down by as many as 19 points to the Blazers, 11 points to the Timberwolves and 25 points to the Bulls — and that’s not even including being down by 27 to the lowly Kings on the road last week.
Lillard wasn’t the only guy to keep the Knicks in an early hole, as Nicolas Batum had a team-high 26 points (6-of-12 from 3), and a combined 37 points and 23 rebounds from big men LaMarcus Aldridge (19 and 14) and J.J. Hickson (18 and 9).
Anthony and J.R. Smith (28 points on 10-of-22 shooting, including four 3-pointers) tried all they could to keep the Knicks close, but the rest of the supporting cast gave almost nothing. Starters Kidd and Kurt Thomas were held scoreless and the bench had only 12 points outside of Smith’s brilliance.
Tyson Chandler, who had only 10 points and seven rebounds, said the offense isn’t the problem, as he pointed to Anthony and Smith as the examples. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year said the biggest worry is on the defensive end.
“We’re getting away from our principles and second-guessing ourselves, so we just have to get back to sticking to what we got our success with in the first place, [and] get our focus back to shutting teams down,” Chandler said. “We’re having a tough time coming out of the blocks in the first half for whatever reason. We’re digging ourselves in a hole and taking up so much energy just to fight back.”
»Stoudemire came back to a rousing standing ovation, and proceeded to commit a turnover on his first touch. It was obvious he was a bit nervous in his first action since last May, and wanted to put his best foot forward. Unfortunately for him, that foot touched the baseline as he was trying to go into his move: “The game felt like it was going 100 miles an hour at first. I rushed some easy shots that I normally knock down. But the second half was better than the first half, and hopefully my second game will be better than my first game.”
Stoudemire also appreciated the warm welcome he received: “I almost shed a tear [after the standing ovation]. It was quite a feeling and never really experienced that before in my career. It was great that the fans were patient with me, and waited for my return.”
Most importantly, Stoudemire noted that his knee “feels fine … hardly any stiffness.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.