Tonight the Moda Center hosted a matchup between the team that makes more out of its talent than anybody in the NBA versus the team that makes the least out of its roster as the Portland Trail Blazers faced the New York Knicks. New York played without Amar'e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, and Samuel Dalembert. The Blazers started Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland in place of the injured Robin Lopez and ill LaMarcus Aldridge. One team compensated well for its missing players, the other didn't. If you need two guesses to figure out which was which you haven't been watching the NBA much this season.
Before elaborating, let's mention that the Knicks were coming off an overtime loss in Sacramento last night. New York fans deserve that much of a bone after what they endured this evening. Energy was a factor in this game. But the Knicks also came in as ill-prepared as any team the Blazers have faced this year and executed poorly on top of it. The result held all the suspense of a death-match battle between Godzilla and Gilligan.
"Skipper, is that you?"
Defense is a full-time commitment in the NBA: 5 players buying in for 24 seconds. If you play defense with, say, 4 players over 20 seconds of each possession you're going to get killed. 4 players and 20 seconds is about twice as much as the Knicks seem willing to commit. New York covered the dribble pretty well tonight. They compensated for one pass...usually. The second pass by the Trail Blazers found a ridiculously open recipient every time. Often it was the same recipient in the same spot as the last time. Stubbornness is great; stubborn stupidity...not so much.
The Blazers burned New York's defense over and over and over, particularly on three-pointers. I have no idea if the Knicks got the memo, but Portland likes to shoot them. Time and again the Knicks went under screens or left Portland's wings wide open at the arc. The Blazers made 6 triples in the first period alone. Wesley Matthews looked like a demigod unleashed, scoring 13 in the period. Yet New York still appeared to be guarding against penetration and post play more than the jumper.
(Let's review: LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez were out. If New York could keep a man in front of Damian Lillard on the drive, who exactly was going to score off of penetration or in the post? The Knicks designed their defense to stop Robinson and Freeland, leaving Matthews, Lillard, and Nicolas Batum free. Insert slow-rolling golf clap here.)
New York allowed Portland 31 points in the first quarter, lucky to escape with only a 9-point deficit. The lead stretched to 14 by the half as the Blazers continued treying and filleting .
Carmelo Anthony didn't take the floor in the second half due to a sore knee. His 5-14 shooting wasn't exactly carrying the team, but with him went the last chance for some kind of miracle scoring comeback. (You already know miracle defense wasn't in the offing.) Portland wore some of the tread off of their bench players in the second half, still didn't drop either quarter (that's 8 periods won in a row, for those counting), and cruised to a 101-79 victory.
tl;dr... Wesley Matthews has made more threes than anybody in the NBA this season. If you can teach a defender to not go beneath screens or leave him alone to double-team Thomas Robinson, you are qualified to coach the New York Knicks.
Matthews ended up the star of the show with 28 points on 6-15 three-point shooting. Batum shot 5-7 from distance and scored 17 in 28 minutes. The Blazers shot 16-36 (44%) from beyond the arc overall. If the victory over the Sixers and this game are any indication, this is their new favorite tactic against sub-par teams....though that'll likely change when Aldridge gets back.
Joel Freeland had a great night, shooting 5-7 for 10 points and 10 rebounds plus 2 blocks in 25 minutes. Cole Aldrich ended up with 19 rebounds but they were mostly crowded and didn't really hurt.
Chris Kaman had 13 points and 9 rebounds in 20 minutes after getting off to a slow start.
Victor Claver got 19 minutes but shot only 1-6.
Will Barton, CJ McCollum, and Allen Crabbe all saw the floor tonight. Crabbe looked out of sorts on offense but blocked 2 shots. McCollum scored twice with 3 steals in only 6 minutes but the game was well decided by then. Barton seemed more comfortable than he's been lately and contributed 3 assists.
Portland's record is now 25-7 with the Toronto Raptors as the sole remaining opponent in 2014. Toronto leads the Eastern Conference at 24-7. They come to town on Tuesday night.
Our Instant Recap holds game flow notes and post-game reaction from around the net.
I don't even know what to say to Posting and Toasting. Condolences, maybe? Their team is so lost even the Big Bad Wolf would be all, "Naw, man...go on. Eating you wouldn't be fair."
Check out our In-Arena Report to feel the Moda Center vibe tonight.