The 30th loss of the season means the pursuit of lottery balls was not compromised, but the absence of a pair of 20-year olds and physical issues for two other rookies means there wasn’t much gained in the other critical area of a rebuild: development.
Rookie Kevin Knox, who coach David Fizdale said is dealing with some “growing pains” in his sore knees, saw his double-figure scoring streak end at 12 games with eight points on 1-of-6 shooting. Fellow rookie Allonzo Trier (two points in 13 minutes) still looks like he’s trying to find his legs coming off a hamstring injury that cost him two weeks in December. Trier is averaging just 4.6 points in 16.5 minutes while shooting 27.5% from the field in six games since returning from the injury. Before the injury, Trier was scoring 11.3 points on 47% shooting.
And, then there were the ones who didn’t play.
Rookie center Mitchell Robinson was expected to return to the lineup for this game, but while working out during the off-day following the win in LA, he slipped and suffered a groin strain. The 20-year-old missed his 10th straight game. For someone who didn’t play organized basketball at all last season, this is lost time toward his growth and development.
Robinson told reporters that he “just slipped” during sprints and that the ankle is not an issue. “The ankle is fine,” he said, “the ankle is good.”
But Robinson now won’t play at all on this trip and may not be available for another week, if not more.
Frank Ntilikina can’t say the same for his ankle, but he seemed relieved that it wasn’t worse. Ntilikina suffered what the team called a strained tendon when he was defending Josh Hart early in the win over the Lakers on Friday night. He is considered day-to-day and was working out on the court before the game in Portland.
As for the rest of the group, the Knicks put up a good fight for the first half, as they trailed 54-53 at the break. But Fizdale had to call two timeouts in the first 4:47 of the third quarter as he saw his team go through what he called “some tough possessions” on offense and the Blazers quickly built a 65-55 lead.
Those possessions involved four missed shots by Tim Hardaway Jr., including a pair of threes. Hardaway Jr. was 2-for-12 in the game and made just 1-of-7 from downtown. After the second timeout, Fizdale pulled a few players, including Hardaway Jr. But the damage had been done as Portland kept the Knicks at an arm’s length for the rest of the game.
Damian Lillard had 11 of his 17 points in the third and also finished with nine assists, while foul-plagued Jusuf Nurkic led the way with 20 points in just 19 minutes. The Knicks were led by Enes Kanter‘s 18 points and 14 rebounds off the bench, while Emmanuel Mudiay had 17 points and seven assists with three steals.
The final stop on this six-game, 14-day road trip ends in Oakland against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. Quite a gift from the NBA schedule-makers.
-The Knicks shot 40.4% from the field in the game. It is only the second time over the last six games that they have shot over 40%, which is why they have tumbled to the very bottom of the NBA in field goal percentage on the season. And, after a hot shooting start from three in Los Angeles (they started 7-for-14), the Knicks finished that game 11-for-37 and went 7-for-23 against Portland. Three-point shooting is a major area of need for this team. They are in the bottom third of the NBA in catch-and-shoot three-point shooting and also among the lowest in making uncontested threes. One could argue ball movement and passing could be a big part of the three-point issues because it’s rare they get to shoot in rhythm.
–Noah Vonleh returned to Portland to face his former team and had a strong game with 16 points and 14 rebounds and hit 3-of-5 from downtown. Before the game, Lillard sat down with MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow and raved about Vonleh’s game. “I always thought really highly of him,” Lillard said. “So athletic and strong, he’s young, he can handle the ball, he can do so many things. He can guard positions one through five. And he’s a good dude, he’s a good person. So it was sad to see him go, but I’m happy to see him playing well.” The Knicks really liked Vonleh, but re-signing him is going to be a challenge because the team does not own Bird Rights on him. Vonleh signed a veteran’s minimum contract at $1.6 million and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
-Knox finished one game shy of matching Kristaps Porzingis‘ best rookie streak of 13 straight games scoring in double figures. There’s plenty of time left in the season to start a new streak, but with 42 games left in the season, he won’t be able to set, or even tie, a new franchise mark. While most might think it’s held by Patrick Ewing, it isn’t. His best streak was 31 games during the 1985-86 season. It’s also not Willis Reed, who went 27 straight games in double figures in 1963-64. So who holds the record? Mr. Bill. In 1979-80, Bill Cartwright had one of the great rookie seasons in franchise history. He averaged 21.7 points per game and scored in double-figures 53 straight games. In fact, he failed to score in double figures only three times that season. Sounds like an easy pick for Rookie of the Year, right? Not quite. See there was this Larry Bird guy who made his debut in Boston that same season.
[Coverage Of Knicks-Warriors Begins Tonight At 10 PM On MSG & MSG GO.]