PORTLAND — Sometimes during a winning streak there are moments that define that stretch of play.
Monday night was not one of those nights as the Portland Trail Blazers cruised to a 102-91 victory over the New York Knicks at the Moda Center to win their 11th straight game.
“This game was kind of weird. I felt like from the beginning we came out well and it was just one of those games where there wasn’t a lot of energy in the game,” said LaMarcus Aldridge fresh off winning Western Conference Player of The Week.
Nicolas Batum had 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists to help the Blazers get the win. Aldridge had 18 points and 14 rebounds and Damian Lillard scored 23 points to go along with six assists.
But despite the fact nothing in the action of the game stood out particularly — other than how badly the Knicks miss Tyson Chandler — the Blazers improved in some areas.
The Blazers had to comeback from double-digits four games in a row during the win streak and refused to let Monday night be the fifth.
It had been a point of emphasis by head coach Terry Stotts coming into the game, and Portland started off putting the pedal to the medal.
“That was one of our biggest weakness this year,” said Batum with regards to the slow starts. “Terry talked a lot about that, especially for the starters.”
The starters helped ignite a 31-18 first quarter where the ball zipped around the court and the Knicks looked either powerless or uninterested in stopping it. Lillard had two dunks in the first half including one in the half court where he could have literally walked to the basket.
Monday was a night where the biggest complaint from the Blazers side of things was that they let the Knicks back into the game. New York got as close as seven points twice in the fourth quarter.
But, the Blazers comebacks taught them the right lesson and that is that it can happen to them, too.
Both times, the were able to answer on the next possession and not let the Knicks get any closer.
Batum said they didn’t want to be on the receiving end of a comeback similar to the one they had Saturday night in Oakland.
“When they start this run we said OK, we did it on the road too,” he said. “So, we know that can happen. Two days ago we’re down 12 on the road and we did it.”
The Knicks were without their starting center, Tyson Chandler, as well as their starting point guard Raymond Felton. Chandler holds the Knicks together on defense, making them respectable almost single-handedly and Monday was their sixth straight loss.
Without Chandler in there, the Blazers knew the interior defense of the Knicks would be a weakness and they attacked it with relative ease, outscoring the Knicks 40-28 in the paint.
“We did want to be aggressive going to the rim,” Stotts said. “They do give up a lot of shots at the rim and we wanted to take advantage of that. Without Tyson Chandler in there it changes their defense a little bit,”
Carmelo Anthony had a very good game to help keep the Knicks within a respectable distance, scoring 34 points but ultimately it wasn’t enough to make up for their poor defense.
The Blazers are tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the longest active winning streak in the NBA.
Batum said that there is a challenge between he and his friends on the Spurs to see whose streak lasts longer.
“Who is the French guy who will have the longest streak right now?” he said.
Only the future holds the answer, but for now, they’re neck and neck.
• Joel Freeland said before the game that although the Blazers were riding a 10-game winning streak, they needed to be “in tune with the game earlier,” as they had gotten off to slow starts in the last few games dating back to their first quarter in Brooklyn.
• The Blazers started anything but slow against an even slower, shorthanded and altogether abysmal Knicks team. The Blazers jumped out to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter as it seemed they didn’t even have to try to get open looks, whether they were lay-ups or threes.
• In the second quarter, the team went with a unit of five full-time bench players in Earl Watson, Will Barton, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland. The Blazers actually outscored the Knicks with that unit on the floor.
• Nicolas Batum led the Blazers at halftime with 15 points, five assists and three rebounds. Damian Lillard had a pair of dunks in the first half and scored 12 at halftime.
• The Blazers had a 56-39 halftime lead and LaMarcus Aldridge scored only four points and went 1-for-6 from the field.