Fri, 24 May 2019

Hot Lillard leads Blazers into game vs. Knicks

Sports Xchange
20 Nov 2018, 16:30 GMT+10

After dropping 40 points on the Washington Wizards in a 119-109 win on Sunday night, Damian Lillard follows with an encore at Madison Square Garden, where the Portland Trail Blazers travel to take on the New York Knicks at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Lillard had 31 of his 40 points in the second and third quarters to help Portland rebound from a two-game losing streak, which followed a four-game winning streak.

"We were in a situation where the players have to take over," Lillard said after the game. "In the second half, I already had my mind made up that I was going to come out with my foot on the gas and be aggressive. Whatever that result was, I was going to live with it and I'm just glad it turned out to be a W."

In the Knicks, the Blazers find themselves encountering an opponent still looking to find itself, and its rotation. The latest unhappy player in the Big Apple: Enes Kanter, whose minutes have been cut drastically since he moved to the bench. While Kanter played 38 minutes in the Knicks' 131-117 loss at Orlando on Sunday, he played just 15 in a 129-124 loss at New Orleans two days prior.

Knicks first-year head coach David Fizdale has toyed with rotations, eschewing playing time for veterans and soon-to-be free agents as he gives younger players a chance.

"I try to balance it," Fizdale said. "That's the tough decisions you got to make. But we know ultimately this season the biggest most important thing we do is development. You can't put anything above that. I try to have empathy for my veterans and make sure them ample time to get out there and produce and help out team and also for them. I take it to heart. They're playing for their livelihood, their contracts. That means a lot to me. I understand that. I try to keep a good balance where I keep that in mind and I try to put them in position where they can still achieve to get a good contract.''

The Knicks, who have lost five consecutive games and seven of eight, are still relying on Tim Hardaway Jr. for their scoring, much in the way Portland relies on Lillard, who hit the 40-point mark for a league-high third time this season.

Only on Sunday against the Wizards, it was a family affair, as the team tied a season-high with 26 assists. For the season, the Blazers rank seventh in the NBA at 114.9 points per game but 27th in assists per game (20.7).

"We made some good passing decisions," head coach Terry Stotts said after the game. "We got out in transition. Obviously we shot the 3 well when they were there. Most of our threes came off the pass, which we prefer. The first half, the ball was moving, and even in the third quarter, we built it to 29 and I thought during that stretch, Evan made some good reads, Damian was mixing up scoring and passing," Stotts told reporters. "That's probably the most layups we've gotten from backdoors and transition."

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