The young Portland Trail Blazers’ playoff hopes may be slim, but they are developing into a potential contender in the Western Conference. The last-place New York Knicks, meanwhile, aren’t close to displaying that kind of promise.
The teams close out their two-game season series Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Trail Blazers (32-30) matched their win total from last season when LaMarcus Aldridge hit a 13-footer with 2.4 seconds remaining to secure a 103-101 victory at Milwaukee on Friday.
“It’s a process and that’s what we talk about,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “We want to continue to improve each year. The goal is to bring a championship back to this city.”
Portland appeared to be headed to the playoffs after a 17-1 run from Dec. 3-Jan. 9 moved it to the top of the Northwest Division. However, it has gone 10-17 since to fall 6 1/2 games behind the last playoff spot in the West.
Despite those struggles, Brandon Roy feels the Friday’s victory was an example of the team’s depth.
“The thing that’s great about our team is that we’ve got a lot of guys who can step up and make shots in the fourth quarter,” said Roy, who had 20 points and 10 assists, including one on Aldridge’s game-winning shot.
Roy is enjoying a breakout season, averaging career highs of 19.5 points and 5.8 assists after winning the league’s rookie of the year award in 2006-07. He was outstanding in the last meeting against New York (18-44), recording his first career triple-double on 20 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, helping Portland to a 94-88 overtime victory.
The Knicks occupy the bottom of the Atlantic Division, and likely will miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. They dropped their fifth straight game Friday, falling 101-97 to Central Division-leading Detroit.
“We definitely had our chances and our opportunities,” coach Isiah Thomas said. “We just have to figure out a way to keep getting better those last three, four minutes of the game where we execute a little better.”
Eddy Curry, who had 23 points against the Pistons, has been a bright spot of late. The center is averaging 20.7 points on 65.6 percent shooting (21-for-32) over the last three games after totaling just 18 points in his previous three.
The Knicks hope he can continue his strong play since they will be without forward Zach Randolph for a fifth straight game due to a bruised right foot. Randolph is second on the club with 17.5 points per game and the leader with 10.2 rebounds. He returned home to Indiana for a personal matter on Thursday, and is expected to rejoin the team in Dallas on Monday.
David Lee will likely start in his place for a third consecutive game after he had 12 points and 15 rebounds Friday, two nights after getting 17 and eight, respectively, in a 119-105 loss to Cleveland. He had 14 points and 15 boards as the starting center in the last matchup with Portland.
Lee could find himself matched up against Aldridge, who made 12 of 20 shots to finish with 29 points on Friday.
Aldridge had 17 points and eight rebounds in his last matchup against New York.