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Analysis: Trail Blazers' size too much for Knicks

By Rob Peterson,
Posted Dec 3 2008 3:00AM

NEW YORK -- New York City has 16 buildings, including the iconic Empire State Building, measuring more than 800 feet tall. Its subway system, with more 229 miles of track serving more than one billion riders a year, runs 24/7. If you wanted to, you could use a pizza slice as a substitute for home plate. And mind you, it's not called The Apple, but The Big Apple.

But if everything about Gotham is grandiose, why is its pro basketball team small?

On Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, the game between the visiting Portland Trial Blazers and the hometown Knicks presented a bizarro basketball scenario. The team from the biggest city played the role of David to the Goliaths from Portland, one of the NBA's smallest markets.

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Portland has four guys in their regular rotation who are 6-foot-11 or taller. The Knicks have none. New York's tallest player, Tim Thomas, is 6-foot-10, but he plays like a shooting guard.

So on Tuesday, it was the Trail Blazers' size vs. the Knicks' system. And despite all the rocks they slung from three-point range -- 31 in all -- the Knicks couldn't fell the Blazers, who got giant performances from Brandon Roy and Joel Przybilla in their 104-97 win.

Before the game, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni addressed his team's lack of height.

"In the past, we've tried to pick our spots on defense by trying to double in the post," D'Antoni said. "And we go to situations where their big guys can't guard our guys.

"We'd love to have long shot blockers, and eventually we'll get there, but I think we can do a lot of damage with the roster we have."

For a while, the Knicks were doing considerable damage to the Blazers' hopes of extending their winning streak to five games, taking a 75-71 lead into the fourth quarter. Eventually Portland's biggest players and its biggest talent took over down the stretch.

No play better epitomized Portland's size advantage than one that took place early in the fourth quarter. The Knicks' Al Harrington, who is 6-foot-9, had what looked like a clear path to the lane for dunk, but the 7-foot Przybilla snuffed the shot, grabbed the rebound and flung it to Rudy Fernandez, who had a memorable MSG debut with 18 points. Fernandez drained a three to cap a 10-0 Portland run. The Knicks never got closer than three points the rest of the night.

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Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

"It was team defense, we picked up the intensity," Przybilla said. "They were scoring too easy on us. We should have started like that from the jump.

"They play small ball, they get out and run. They play a lot of screen-and-rolls and put the big guy in the screen-and-rolls and try to spread out the court. And at any given time, they can shoot the three ball, so they are a difficult matchup."

Thanks to Przybilla's post presence off the bench, Portland coach Nate McMillan noted that he has a luxury D'Antoni could only dream of having.

"We have two centers who can have an impact on the game," McMillan said.

The other center, rookie Greg Oden, made a pedestrian MSG debut with two points, seven boards, two blocked shots and two missed dunks in 19 minutes. But two of his boards on the offensive end led directly to hoops, helping the Blazers dominate nearly every big-man category. The Blazers grabbed 54 boards to New York's 36, blocked seven shots compared to the Knicks' two and had 15 second-chance points to the Knicks' four. The Knicks had 40 points in the paint while the Blazers had 36, but after Przybilla's game-turning block in the fourth, the Knicks never seemed to venture within 15 feet of the hoop again.

Getting close to the hoop wasn't a problem for Portland All-Star Brandon Roy, who put the Blazers on his back and the Knicks on ice after Fernandez's three. Roy, who finished with 23 points, scored six of the Blazers' next 11 points to put the game out of reach.

"He took over, that's pretty much what he does every game," Przybilla said. "He's the key to this team. He's a special player. In the fourth quarter, he turns it up a notch and takes over."

Roy did show a killer instinct against a squad that was struggling late. D'Antoni only had eight healthy players at his disposal -- and it showed. The Blazers' bench outscored the Knicks 47-17.

"The guys that were playing well I think ran out of steam," D'Antoni said. "To be able to beat a team like this we had to have five our six guys running on all cylinders. We just didn't have it tonight.

"I thought we had it for a long time. When we get a few guys back, we will be fine."

Until then, the Knicks may find themselves coming up short in more ways than one.

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