Updated: March 15, 2013, 2:33 AM ET

1.Blazers Get On Point While Knicks' Woes Grow

By Danny Nowell | ESPN.com/TrueHoop Network

PORTLAND, Ore. -- In a season all about new beginnings, the Portland Trail Blazers took another step Thursday night toward putting the past behind them, blowing out the New York Knicks 105-90.

After Portland's bitter flameout last season, which saw a talented roster miss the playoffs and led to the dismissal of coach Nate McMillan, the Blazers set about cleaning house. One of the first moves a new front office made was to ship Raymond Felton to the Knicks for spare parts, excising a player many observers saw as the center of the season's disappointment. After last night, Blazer fans might focus on their Felton rancor a bit less on account of the rookie who lined up opposite him.

Damian Lillard
Steve Dykes/USA TODAY SportsDamian Lillard led Portland past his predecessor.

Rookie Damian Lillard put on a show, particularly in a blowout stretch of the fourth quarter that felt more valedictory than competitive. Even as fans booed Felton's every touch, Lillard gradually stole the energy in the building, finishing with 26 points and 10 assists against just one turnover.

Contrast that with Felton's 11 points on 12 shots, three assists and two turnovers, and you can begin to get an idea of how stark the contrast is between present and past in Portland.

Off the court, it's much the same. Whereas Felton has a reputation, even on his best days, for a direct demeanor that can spill into aggression, Lillard is cagey and composed. Given an opportunity to comment on the fans booing Felton, Lillard merely said, "They were loud tonight. … There've been games where I could tell they were fired up about it, like Boston, Miami and Oklahoma City. That's what it reminded me of."

If Lillard is a little safer with the ball than Felton, he's also safer in front of a microphone, and it's hard to imagine anybody in the Blazers organization who minds.

As for the Knicks, they limped into Portland missing their stars and looking like a team in crisis, and that's how they left. Without Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler or Carmelo Anthony -- all sitting or absent from the team with knee injuries -- the Knicks are struggling to stay competitive.

After suffering blowout losses in Golden State and Denver, the Knicks controlled the first 21 minutes of action in Portland. Without their star trio, however, they were unable to sustain success and failed to produce consistently good looks on offense.

For a time in the first half, the Knicks were able to exploit Portland's inability to cope with a spread pick-and-roll attack, allowing Chris Copeland, Marcus Camby, and Kenyon Martin to feast at the rim and make up for the firepower New York was missing. Once the Blazers went big, however, the game was more or less a blowout: the Blazers started with a 13-0 run to end the second quarter and held the Knicks to 14 third-quarter points.

Of course, the Knicks are putting on their poker faces.

"Being short-handed didn't affect us at all," Knicks guard Jason Kidd said. "Tonight we just didn't make 3s, and that's something that we have to work on."

Indeed, any optimism that might still be surrounding the Knicks is a holdover from the start of the season, when the Knicks were taking and making a nearly historic amount of 3-pointers. As those percentages have regressed to the mean, and their highest-paid players continue to nurse injuries, it's hard not to wonder how much there is to work on. A team that was recently the second best in the Eastern Conference now looks like a likely first-round upset.

In the end, that was the most fascinating takeaway from the game. The Knicks came into the season billed as contenders, and their early returns made good on that promise. In contrast, the Blazers seemed to be the team in greater flux, working with a new front office, a new coaching staff and four rookies.

While the Knicks are still playoff-bound and the Blazers are likely not, the feeling after this game is that the lottery team may be the one with a clearer picture of the future.

For New York, an aging core of injured stars is muddying visions of contention, while an overachieving squad in Portland looks forward to several more years of its young core. And thanks to the rookie who helped Portland fans exorcise their demons of the past, it seems the Blazers may have something the Knicks could use: stability.

Danny Nowell's work appears on Portland Roundball Society.

Dimes past: March 1-2 | Sloan/MIT, Day 1 | Day 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8-9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13

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