The Portland Trail Blazers earned their second straight road win against an Eastern Conference opponent, knocking off the New York Knicks, 118-114, at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.
Now 12-5 this season, the Trail Blazers have had issues with consistency away from home. They started this six-game road trip with back-to-back losses against the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves before taking advantage of the rapidly disintegrating Washington Wizards on Sunday.
Portland's dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum carried the offense with 60 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds combined. They scored 17 of the Trail Blazers' 29 points in the fourth quarter.
Knicks rookie Kevin Knox, who came off the bench after starting the previous three games, scored just two points in 13 minutes.
Kevin Knox's Demotion Is Good Move for Knicks
One reason Fizdale decided to make lineup changes on Tuesday was because of dissatisfaction with the way Knox has been playing.
"Opportunities where he could've cut, ran harder, did something with his athleticism," Fizdale told the New York Post's Stefan Bondy about Knox. "Because that's the biggest thing that I'm trying to do is let his body go and do what he can naturally do and have confidence in that. But those takes reps, too."
Knox also acknowledged to Bondy his effort level from game to game hasn't been up to snuff.
"That's something I'm working on," he said. "A lot of people told me that coming out of college, but that's not something that's going to fix overnight."
As Knox noted, there were questions about his motor during the predraft process.
B/R's Jonathan Wasserman noted after the Knicks made Knox the ninth overall pick there would be a long development path ahead:
"Knox shouldn't be counted on for regular minutes as a rookie. He's too young, unpolished and underdeveloped physically. He could be in line for DNPs, though he'll eventually have chances during garbage time or when rotation players go down with injuries. Expect flashes, just not consistent production."
During the three games Knox started from Nov. 14 to Nov. 18, he averaged just 10 points on 11-of-33 shooting with 12 rebounds and six turnovers.
Rather than hope Knox would be able to fix his issues by keeping him in the starting lineup, Fizdale sent a message to his first-round draft pick. The 19-year-old did take advantage of his only real scoring opportunity against the Blazers:
Fizdale is a smart coach who has been around the NBA long enough to know just hoping a talented first-round pick will turn things around can be detrimental.
Instead, the Knicks coaching staff and Knox have publicly acknowledged a key area of improvement for him just 11 games into his career. He can work alongside them to get better, while doing it in a low-pressure role that doesn't require him to be the face of the franchise before he's ready.
Trail Blazers Belong Among Western Conference Elites
The Trail Blazers organization and fans can be forgiven if they felt disrespected before the 2018-19 season started.
Per Gilles Gallant of OddsShark, prior to the start of the regular season, Portland's over/under win total was set at 42. This was a team that earned the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with a 49-33 record last season.
Every key piece from last year's roster returned to start this season, yet it was just assumed the depth of the Western Conference would result in the Trail Blazers falling back to the pack.
While last year's top two teams—the Houston Rockets (8-7) and Golden State Warriors (12-6)—are currently struggling to piece things together, the Trail Blazers own the best record in the Western Conference (12-5).
Head coach Terry Stotts has his team firing on all cylinders against really good competition. They have wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Pelicans, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
Lillard and McCollum are playing as well as any duo in the NBA this season. They combined to shoot 22-of-45 to get their 60 points on Tuesday.
ESPN.com's Zach Lowe highlighted how Lillard and McCollum's evolution following last season's playoff sweep at the hands of the Pelicans has shaped Portland's early success in 2018-19:
"Lillard grew into the (leadership) role. It helped finding a co-star in McCollum who shares much of his basketball belief system. They project a united front, too. Lillard will tell teammates, politely but firmly, when they are doing something wrong in a game or falling short of the team's practice standards. They listen, because he is the best player, but also because Lillardholds himself accountable and takes all the blame publicly when things go wrong."
The Blazers weren't at their best early against the Knicks—they gave up 60 points through two quarters—but kept the game close enough to finally pull away in the second half. Great teams find ways to win playing at less than their best.
Playing the Knicks wouldn't normally be a measuring stick game, but combined with the rest of the Blazers' difficult early-season schedule, there is ample evidence to suggest this team is building off last season's success.
The Trail Blazers continue their six-game road trip on Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks at 8 p.m. ET. The Knicks will travel to TD Garden on Wednesday to take on the Boston Celtics at 7:30 p.m. ET.