RJ Barrett powers Knicks to defeat Trail Blazers

The Knicks have had a better win rate this season than their Wednesday night opponents, even as the under-manned Trail Blazers have a far more realistic chance of making the playoffs in the conference opposite.

The Knicks mathematically kept their faint postseason hopes alive while, however, dashed Portland’s chances with a 128-98 blowout win in their first game at the Garden in more than two weeks after a seven-game road trip.

RJ Barrett scored 21 of his strong 31 points in the first half as the Knicks improved to 29-40 in five games in 10th-ranked Eastern Conference with 13 games to play. They now trail Atlanta by that amount after the Hawks (34-35) lost to the Hornets and were overtaken overall.

Julius Randle averaged 20 points with nine rebounds and seven assists, Immanuel Quickley had 18, and Evan Fournier finished with 14 — including his 200th 3-pointer of the season, which was within 16 of John Stark’s franchise record of 217 1994-95 moved.

RJ Barrett, who posted a game-high 31 points, goes on a shot in the Knicks' 128-98 blowout win over the Trail Blazers.
RJ Barrett, who posted a game-high 31 points, goes on a shot in the Knicks’ 128-98 blowout win over the Trail Blazers.
Robert Sabo

Josh Hart had 17 points to lead the Chauncey Billups-managed Blazers (26-42). They started the game on Day 1 from No. 10 in the West, despite the absence of all-star guard Damian Lillard since December (abdominal surgery) and deadline day trades from CJ McCollum and Norman Powell last month.

A day after Tom Thibodeau declined to respond if he had received any assurances from the front office about a return next season, Bleacher Report quoted sources as saying he “expectedly” to remain the Knicks’ head coach beyond this season will.

Julius Randle, who scored 20 points, lays up in the Knicks' win.
Julius Randle, who scored 20 points, lays up in the Knicks’ win.
Robert Sabo

“I told you yesterday that I’m not worried about any of those things,” Thibodeau reiterated ahead of Wednesday’s game.

Thibodeau, who has three years left on his five-year deal signed in July 2020, was only slightly more accommodative after Tuesday’s training session, saying: “I’m not worried about any of those things. Just train the team. Coach the team, prepare for the next day. never have I know what I put into the job.”

Thibodeau was named NBA Coach of the Year last year when he led the Knicks to a 41-31 record and their first playoff berth since 2013 before losing to the Hawks in five games in the first round.

Mitchell Robinson hits one home in the Knicks' win.
Mitchell Robinson hits one home in the Knicks’ win.
Robert Sabo

They are almost mathematically eliminated on a playoff return, but finished their 3-4 road trip Sunday in Brooklyn with a 28-40 aggregate record, leaving them 5 ½ games behind the Hornets for the 10th play-in position of the Eastern Conference with 14 games left in the league on Wednesday.

The Knicks have underperformed this season after Rose added two new starters in backcourt, veteran guards Fournier and Kemba Walker. The latter was closed for the season. Thibodeau’s favorite Derrick Rose has also missed the last few months after ankle surgery in December. They squandered second-half leads on their recent road trip against top teams at stops in Philadelphia, Phoenix, Memphis and Brooklyn.

“Well, I think we’ve played really good basketball since the All-Star break,” Thibodeau said. “And so we play against a lot of young people who gain valuable experience.”

Barrett (19.5 points per game) is aiming to finish the season with a scoring average of at least 20.0, and the left wing scored 14 points in the first quarter as the Knicks led 37-29 went.

They extended that cushion to 11, 66-55 by the break, with Barrett ending the first half on 21 and Randle adding 10 with six of the Knicks’ 19 assists in two quarters. This duo also scored 15 points in the third period as the Knicks extended their lead to 94-74 as they headed into the closing stages. RJ Barrett powers Knicks to defeat Trail Blazers


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