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Trail Blazers 111, Knicks 101: “Knicks played hard...just not very well”

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This was David fighting Goliath barehanded.

NBA: New York Knicks at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks’ 111-101 loss in Portland ended after midnight in New York. Maybe you missed it ‘cuz you have things to do tomorrow and so you went to bed. Maybe you missed it ‘cuz you were watching one institute of higher learning’s exploited athletes whup another’s. Maybe it was just too late a game to commit to. We’re not here to judge. We’re here to recap.

But also, we’re family. So I’ma be real with y’all, fam. I got a few pet peeves with Knick fans this year. The extremist Frank Ntilikina takes, where he’s either young Kawhi Leonard or young Anthony Bennett and nothing in-between...the refusal to digest the growth of developing youngsters before rushing to trade them to chase the twin dragons of draft picks and cap space...the bemoaning that the basketball gods never move the Knicks up in a draft, while bemoaning every loss that gets us closer to a high pick as proof David Fizdale can’t coach, while a chorus of bemoaning would drown us all if Fiz somehow coached this team to 30 wins and the 10th pick.

The Knicks lost for the same reason they’ve lost 30 games of 40 this year. Just like the Christian trinity, it’s really three-as-one: they don’t shoot well; they don’t pass well; they don’t defend well. The Knicks lost because the Trail Blazers are good and they’re not.

Jusuf Nurkic scored six points in the first minute, a 288-point pace (even at that pace, if he’d played all 48 minutes he’d have to have scored a bucket a minute the rest of the game just to tie Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 100 points. I read a thing today about how one 18-inch pizza is actually bigger than two 12-inch pies and just felt like throwing some fun math your way). This was not a good night to be Luke Kornet trying to check the Bosnian balrog, though he had his moment in the sun.

Fizdale called timeout after 100 seconds. New York missed their first six shots before hitting their next four to get some dog in the fight. In the second they pulled ahead for a while, on the strength of 20 first-half free throw attempts (picking up from the 41 they took Friday in Los Angeles) and Portland missing a million shots near the rim. Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you.

When Portland wasn’t missing in close, they were real pretty-like.

Another reoccurrence from the Laker game: Mario Hezonja came out on fire again, scoring 10 in his first 12 minutes of action. Emmanuel Mudiay got to the rim a ton. Whole lotta this tonight.

What’s your favorite synonym for the rim? Iron? Cup? Hoop? Basket? Bucket?

At the half Portland was up one. Then play resumed and the third quarter was was eerily, ickily reminiscent to the first. The Knicks missed their first seven shots. Portland did not; a 9-0 run put them up 10 and led Fizdale to call time 96 seconds into the half. The Knicks stopped getting to the line and never got started from beyond the arc. The Blazers did: after a Meyers Leonard trey they went up a dozen. This happened, and this is the kind of play that kills when you’re fighting an uphill battle.

Things started getting away from the Knicks.

Mudiay had some pretty assists, especially to Enes Kanter.

But it was all aerosol failing to mask putrescence. Portland was up 86-68, which was lovely as far as palindromes go but not competition. New York scored the last eight in the third to fool the faithful, but most of us are damned and the damned know better. It was 94-80 after a picturesque end-to-end sequence for Zach Collins, who hung in one-on-one defending Trey Burke at the arc, leading to a miss, then scored as the trailer in a delayed transition sequence...”delayed” meaning “all nine other players were already on the other end and Collins just sorta lolly-gagged to the hoop.” It was 98-82 after this.

This was a loss straight out of central casting: a bad Knick team on the West Coast overwhelmed by a playoff team. It hurts, watching this script over and over. But blessed are your eyes, for they see...

Notes:

  • 16, 14 and three threes for Noah Vonleh in his first game in Portland against the team he’s played two-thirds of his career games with.
  • Glass half-empty: Kevin Knox didn’t hit a field goal until a three late in the fourth and saw his streak of double-digit scoring games end at 12. Glass half-full: he hit five of six free throws and scored most of his points late in the game, rather than early.
  • Good trivia question tonight on MSG’s broadcast: Knox has scored double-digits in 12 straight games. Who holds the Knick rookie record for most consecutive games scoring in double-digits?
  • If Fizdale were Tom Thibodeau, talk of Knox’s knee soreness being due to him “still growing” and not to him playing between 32 and 42 minutes over the last dozen games would be summarily dismissed.
  • There’s a restaurant near me where the food is strictly bomb or garbage. There’s no middle ground. C’est la Mudiay. When the midrange is falling, I love watching him play (offense). When it’s not, he looks like a butterknife at a gun fight where even the guns carry guns.
  • Mike Breen said the Knicks want to make “300 passes” per game. My girl laughed and said that just means they’ll turn it over more.

18 assists versus 12 turnovers tonight. Portland had 25 versus 14.

  • Spending literal decades dreaming of the Knicks finding one above-average guard and watching Portland with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum gives me the same feeling I had when I was nine years old and saved up money to buy a tape cassette of Michael Jackson’s Bad album and I walked home with it in my headphones feeling good until I got to my driveway and heard someone having a house party at the end of the block blaring it on their state-of-the-art boom box. Looking back over this analogy, at least as a kid I enjoyed the walk home from the store. The Knick backcourt doesn’t even give us that much.
  • Not a huge night for either Blazer All-Star guard. McCollum did have some sweet makes, though.
  • Given how often Tim Hardaway Jr. takes those leaning runners with his defender trapped behind him, you’d think he’d make more of them. Feels like he’s sub-40% on those.
  • I’m starting to wonder if Kornet has Steve Novak Disease, where you can’t get your shot off against NBA defenses that give a remote shit about defending you. I think Kornet is a smart player and I trust he’ll figure out adjustments. I’m thinking of baseball players who hit .350 their first month in the majors and then the league figures out they can’t hit offspeed stuff and that’s the end of that.
  • Is this not a travel?
  • Allonzo Trier did something tonight other Knick guards do, too, and I hate it: when Kanter wants to post, and either can’t get deep position or the guard can’t get him the ball, the big man comes pretty much all the way out to the arc to get it, so now he’s 23 feet from the hoop, and what? We’re supposed to believe he’s gonna do something out there? In the post or off the dribble?
  • Watching Kanter’s post play is like visiting one of those historic villages where people dress up in old-timey roles and tourists due cute things like try out a butter churn and photograph their kids in stocks. In these village re-enactments there is always a blacksmith. There’s always a small crowd outside the blacksmith’s shop, watching him heat metal and bang it into shape. Their attention to detail is undeniable. There’s something admirable about the care and craftsmanship that go into seeing the past brought to life.

But 15 minutes later you and your friends are in the village restaurant, and you’re drinking Cherry Coke to wash down your cheeseburger and fries. You’re all discussing the five-second Game of Thrones teaser you saw yesterday. Craftsmanship doesn’t capture the moment the way lights and buttons and Google and apps do. Meanwhile the blacksmith, still in character, still on the clock, sneaks behind the shed for a bite of baloney and checks his phone to see if the dignity he ordered from Prime arrived at his windowless basement studio apartment.

  • Hezonja and Evan Turner were guarding each other and I felt like I was watching the little devil and little angel on my shoulders go at it. Up to you which is which.
  • Kornet has had a real nice run. He could be a player in this league. But seeing him matched up against Nurkic was like seeing World War I battle World War II.
  • Terry Stotts looks like Jeff Hornacek’s butler.
  • “I don’t blame him at all” is not exactly a spirited defense of Kanter or the meaning/value of freedom of speech, but Dolan’s gonna Dolan.
  • Entirely unrelated: first, watch this.

If money were no object, how many players in the league right now would their teams not trade straight-up for Anthony Davis? I say Steph Curry and maybe Giannis and that’s about it. You?

  • Rebecca Haarlow spoke with Knick assistant Howard Eisley before the second half started.

HAARLOW: “Coach, another aggressive half from Noah Vonleh and also Mario Hezonja. What are you seeing those guys do to step up here?”

EISLEY: “They came out very aggressive.”

LOL nah, both of y’all.

  • Trivia answer: Bill Cartwright scored double-digits in 53 straight in 1979-80.

Quoth LatvianPrankster: “Knicks played hard...just not very well.” Word. Next game is tonight in Golden State. Playing hard but not well won’t work there. Playing hard and well probably won’t. Still, David only needs to best Goliath once to go down in history. See you tomorrow, flock.