I bet more than a few people expected this. Portland stands tall against Miami, only to fall to a barrage of scoring from LeBron James in the closing period and overtime Sunday night, then are basically unable to show up in their next outing, and are beaten handily by the Knicks. In a perfect world, a gut-wrenching loss is followed by an energy-renewing win. In the NBA, it usually doesn’t happen. This isn’t a momentum-killer, or a season-ender, but it’s a tough one, there’s no doubt about that.
Give a ton of credit to the Knicks. In fact, give all the credit to the Knicks. They executed a game plan that included double-teaming LaMarcus Aldridge on defense, cutting off the ball on offense, and a large dose of crashing the boards and getting out in the fast break. Knicks head coach, former Portland assistant Mike D’Antoni, became famous for his “Seven seconds or less,” offensive philosophy. This Knicks team is not that Phoenix Suns team, but Raymond Felton, Landry Fields, Amr’e Stoudemire, and especially Wilson Chandler can run when they get the chance. Portland wasn’t quite run out of the Rose Garden Tuesday night, but the disparity in fast break points, 12 for New York and only four for Portland, was one of the games deciding factors.
A second decider on Tuesday was points in the paint. The Knicks finished the evening with 50; Portland with 40. With a guy like Amar’e you expect a lot of inside looks, but Tuesday many of New York’s layups came on dive cuts to the basket with Stoudemire standing at the top of the key. In the last few seasons, Amar’e has worked hard on his outside J. His game is still primarily about going strong to the rack, but if you don’t respect his jumper you can find yourself in hot water in not time at all. Tuesday I would say that Portland over respected Stoudemire’s jumper, meaning that often it was two or three Blazers flashing out to get a hand in Amar’e's face when he looked to shoot. Although the hustle is commendable, here’s what isn’t: leaving a man wide open under the hoop. Stoudemire is no slouch on the pass off, and at least three or four times he was able to find an open cutter under the basket. Portland’s help-side defense needs to be smarter. Blocked shots are nice, and hurrying a shooter like Amar’e is just what you need to do to throw him off his rhythm. That being said, guys like Fields, Chandler, and Ronny Turiaf probably don’t miss very often when they are unguarded under the rim.
Turnovers and assists where the final thing that killed Portland Tuesday night. The Blazers didn’t handle the ball well, turning it over 14 times, and hardly passed at all, dishing out only eight assists as a team. Part of the reason Portland’s assist numbers were so low was because they shot only 35% from the field, but also the Blazers simply played too much one-on-one. Too much standing around, not enough movement from anyone. The news has spread league-wide that LA is coming to play now that Brandon Roy is on the shelf. He needs to pass out of the double team in a more effective manner, and part of that falls on the shoulders of his teammates to make strong, smart cuts to get open. Once they’re open, they need to knock down shots. It sounds easy because it is easy. Hitting open shots can effectively kill the double-team as a defensive option. Tonight Portland’s shooters didn’t do all that much. Wesley Matthews, 2-of-13; Nicolas Batum, 5-of-13, Patty Mills, 3-of-9; Rudy Fernandez 4-of-10; and Dante Cunningham 0-of-3. Rudy finished with a respectable 18 points off the bench, but seven of those points came from the free throw line.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Knicks turnover-to-assist ratio may have been what put them over the top. Ray Felton alone had 14 assists and zero turnovers. New York was moving the ball, and often after two or three passes led to a guy wide open. This meant both uncontested layups and open threes. The Knicks didn’t shoot too many threes, making five of 12 attempts, but were able to kill more than one Portland run with a deep ball.
Post game, head coach Nate McMillan kept his remarks short, and the locker room was as dead as I’ve ever seen it. There isn’t much to say when you get out played as thoroughly as Portland did Tuesday night. It’s easy to write this one off as residual fall-out from Sunday’s heart-breaker, and you know what, go right ahead and do that. The Blazers have been given no favors thus far in 2010-11, and if every so often they get whupped then so be it. What can’t happen though is for this two-game losing streak to turn into a four or five gamer. Portland has gotten close to turning the corner on this season, but they’re a long way from winning comfortably night in and night out.
The Blazers travel to Phoenix to take on the Suns on Friday. Phoenix is in somewhat of a tailspin at the moment, but anything can happen. It seems to me that in the NBA the real effect of losing a game is only determined by how well a team plays in their next game. Friday will show if Portland can shake these two home losses, or if the good play as of late was more or less an aberration.
Some brief thoughts I had during Tuesday’s loss:
- I hate to be the guy that blames stuff on the referees, or is continually complaining about poor refereeing, but I have to voice an opinion on something. Amar’e Stoudemire travels. He travels almost every time he goes to the hoop. In fact the only time he doesn’t travel is when he shoots stand-still jumpers. Sure he gets called once in awhile, but this guy travels ALL THE TIME. He shuffles his feet, he picks up his pivot foot, he switches his pivot foot, he takes a step before he takes a dribble. He is a master of traveling. NBA refs, for some reason, don’t like to call traveling. Maybe they think that if they call a guy like Amar’e for traveling once they have to call it all the time. Sorry fellas, and lady, that’s your job. Call him three times for traveling in the first quarter, and maybe he learns that it’s AGAINST THE RULES. Just saying.
- Ronny Turiaf had himself a ball game. I’m not a fan of Turiaf, but Tuesday he bettered LaMarcus on defense and on offense. Turiaf missed only one field goal attempt, grabbed an even 10 boards, and harassed LA into the first bad night he’s had in almost a month. Sure one good game from Turiaf probably means four or five bad games, but unfortunately for Blazer fans he had to pick Tuesday to come to play.
- Wilson Chandler can flat out play. Amar’e is the name on this Knick squad, but he at least shares best-player status with Chandler. He can shoot, he can dunk, and he’s a beast athletically. New York isn’t a good enough team to compete for a title, at least not with who they have, but they’d be smart to keep Wilson Chandler around. I’m sure he’s on a lot of people’s short lists for possible additions.
- Post game, Nate said the team was getting Wednesday off. They need it. This team is tired, and rest can only help. Everybody looked absolutely exhausted, and those that chose to talk to the media did so in a reserved fashion. I feel the player’s pain, but let me be the first to say, this could be worse. We could all be Cleveland Cavaliers fans right now.