The Trail Blazers left no doubt Tuesday night that no matter how bad things were going for them, they weren’t going as poorly as the New York Knicks.
The now 10-15 Blazers outscored the Knicks by at least eight points in each of the first three quarters and led by as many as 32 points while routing 4-20 New York, sending the reeling Knicks to their 10th straight defeat.
Obviously, Portland has not reached its pre-season expectations – injuries have taken care of that – but Damian Lillard says there is no worry about this team splintering or losing its way this season.
“Not us,” he said emphatically. “Because I think that starts at the top. We don’t have a coaching staff that wavers, where they come in here like, ‘We got to stop doing this!’ They are never negative. Some people have a hard time when you’ve struggling or losing and coming in the next day and still having the same positive attitude, while still addressing what the issues are. And our coaching staff, they do a great job of that.
Myself and CJ, we’ve always had that mentality of, ‘It’s not going well, but we’re going to figure it out.’ So, it’s not only no panic, when we see that from our coaching staff and our teammates see it from us, there is a level of confidence that you have throughout a group, when everybody can look to each other know and say 'He still believes, he’s still positive.'
“You keep that energy as a group. Whereas, ‘It’s going bad, but let’s keep going.’ If we finish the season bad, we’re going to have a whole season where we say, we fought through it. We always have our minds in the right place and we’re going to keep fighting through it.”
The Blazer coaching staff showed that it’s willing to tinker with things a bit, showing a 2-3 zone, a three-guard lineup and the team’s only two true bigs – Skal Labissiere and Hassan Whiteside – playing at the same time.
Asked when the last time he was on a team that played a 2-3 zone, Kent Bazemore shook his head and fought for a memory he couldn’t find.
“Um, I can’t really remember. It’s definitely a different wrinkle, especially if you throw it at them right out of a timeout,” said Bazemore, who started at small forward. “You have smart enough players on the floor, it’s actually very effective.
“You’ve got to give us credit tonight, though. We came out… Dame was super-special tonight and had the game we kind of needed from him. We’re still building. Confidence is starting to grow.”
Whiteside had another night of stuffing the stat sheet, getting 17 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots in 25:38. Lillard was sensational from the floor, hitting 9 of 15 overall and 8-12 from three -- and he didn't play in the fourth quarter. Portland hit 17 of 41 threes while the Knicks managed just 7-38.
Next up, Thursday night on the road, is Denver.
Listen to this week’s Talkin’ Blazers podcast here: