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Blazers triple trouble for undermanned Knicks

Three minutes before halftime Thursday night at the Rose Garden, the Trail Blazers seemed headed for one of their most inexcusable losses of the season.

New York, minus a staggering load of punch on the front line and coming off embarrassingly one-sided defeats on the first two stops of a five-game Western swing, was ahead 48-38 and playing with a swagger against the local quintet.

Then came a seismic shift.

Portland outscored the boys from the Big Apple 13-0 to close out the half, taking a 51-48 lead into intermission.

The Blazers dominated the third quarter to seize a 16-point lead, then turned back a late rally to take care of the Knicks 105-90.

The Knicks (38-27) were the knee-injury capital of the NBA world Thursday night with Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler all on the shelf. That’s not to mention former Trail Blazer Rasheed Wallace, on crutches as he hobbled around the Rose Garden in recovery from foot surgery.

“Not to say we’re supposed to beat them, because they’re still a good team,” said Portland’s Damian Lillard, who scored 26 points and dished out 10 assists. “But if you can catch a team like that on your homecourt, you want to win the game. We were able to get it done.”

Double-doubles were triple trouble as Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge (22 points, 10 rebounds) and J.J. Hickson (12 points, 16 boards) laid the wood to the undermanned Knicks, who went with veterans Kurt Thomas and Kenyon Martin and rookie Chris Copeland on the starting front line.

“Maybe we relaxed a little bit, because they had no Melo, no Amare, no Tyson,” said Portland’s Nicolas Batum, who contributed 16 points, six assists, four rebounds and two steals in 39 minutes. “Maybe we thought it was going to be easy. But the other (Knicks), they can play. We had to play, too, if we were going to win.”

All five starters scored in double figures for the Blazers (30-34), who won for only the fifth time in 17 games.

It took a while to rev the engines. New York, had the best of it early, sinking 13 of 21 shots from the field en route to a 30-22 advantage after one quarter. The Knicks stoked the lead to 13 points early in the second quarter and were in front 48-38 when the Blazers made their move, closing the half on the critical 13-0 roll.

“The start was very disappointing,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “Defensively, we weren’t very alert or aggressive. But the way we finished the first half, with our defense creating some opportunities, turned things our way.”

Portland broke things open in the third quarter, outscoring New York 27-14 to take a 78-62 lead into the final period.

Behind J.R. Smith, who finished with a game-high 33 points, the Knicks responded with a 14-2 run to cut the margin to 80-76 with 7:50 remaining.

“I told the guys, ‘We can’t slow down,’ " Stotts said. “ ‘They’re on a road trip, and I didn’t want us slowing down. Make them miss, pick up the tempo, put them on their heels a little bit.’ “

The Blazers answered with a 17-4 tear of their own for a 97-80 edge, and it was all over but the (chalupa) shouting.

Aldridge, who missed Wednesday’s practice session and Thursday’s shootaround with the effects of his first migraine, was outstanding at both ends, nabbing 10 defensive boards and matching his season high with five blocks in 44 minutes.

“I couldn’t take him out in the second half,” Stotts said. “He was that good for us. When (the Knicks) spaced the court, he had some (favorable) matchups. He created a problem for them at the offensive end.”

Batum, whose sore right wrist has hampered his production in recent weeks, spoke with Stotts about his situation after practice Wednesday.

“I think he had a talk with himself, too,” Stotts said. “He’s been struggling. He seemed determined to work his way through this.”

Batum sank 6 of 10 shots from the field, including 4 for 7 from 3-point range.

“I need to be more aggressive every night,” he said. “When you have pain, you can’t think about you. You have to be selfish and play through it.”

Lillard, who was 11 for 18 from the field, won the battle at point guard with his Portland predecessor, Raymond Felton, which provided an intriguing subplot to the evening’s affairs. Fueled by an incendiary Thursday column in The Oregonian, fans greeted Felton with a nasty reception during pre-game introductions and booed him every time he touched the ball.

“It was what I expected," said Felton, who finished with 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting. “They booed the whole time. It was funny. It made me laugh.”

Felton was complimentary to the Blazers and to Lillard and paid homage to the Rose Garden throng.

“This is a tough place to play on the road,” said Felton, who also had three rebounds, three assists, three steals and two turnovers in 29 minutes. “They have a good team. We lost to a good team in a very rough place to play.”

The Blazers reacted with a mix of curiosity and compassion for their former teammate.

“I have nothing against Raymond,” Batum said. “He was a good teammate. He’s a good guy, a good friend, a great player. They booed him, so I guess they have their reason.”

“I told Raymond during warmups, ‘You know they’re going to boo you,’ " Hickson said. “I really don’t know what they were booing him for. Ray had a rough time being a Trail Blazer. It just didn’t work out for him, but he’s a great guy. I wish him the best of luck.”

“Ray handled it like a professional, and our fans represented the team,” Wesley Matthews said. “That’s why they’re great fans.”

Added Stotts: “I wasn’t here last year, but it’s clear there are some strong feelings about Felton here. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about being in Portland is how passionate the fans are. I loved it. I’m not necessarily for players getting booed, but I love it when the fans are into the game.”

NOTES: Portland’s next action is Saturday night at home against Detroit. ... The Blazers moved into a tie for 10th place in the Western Conference with Dallas, which lost 92-91 to San Antonio. Portland and Dallas are three games behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers (34-32) and 2 1/2 back of Utah (33-32). ... Hickson has 36 double-doubles, Aldridge 30 this season. ... Lillard’s eight-game streak of scoring 20 or more points is the longest by a Portland rookie since Calvin Natt in 1980. Lillard is the fastest rookie to reach 1,200 points and 400 assists since Allen Iverson in 1996-97. ... The Knicks shot .615 the first quarter (13 for 21) and .370 (23 for 61) the rest of the way. Portland, which shot .513, is 7-0 when firing at 50 percent or better this season. ... The Knicks’ bench, primarily due to Smith, outscored the Portland reserves 46-15 ... Anthony, who left Wednesday night’s 117-94 loss at Denver with a sore right knee, had his knee drained in New York on Thursday. “He said it felt pretty good and that he is going to come out to L.A. (where the Knicks face the Clippers on Sunday) to be with the team and be evaluated,” New York coach Mike Woodson said. “When he’s going to play again, I don’t know.”