The Point Forward has started the new year with resolutions for every team; Ben Golliver took the Western Conference. I fully agree with what he had to say about the Blazers. I’ve believed all along that showcasing J.J. Hickson was being done for the purpose of turning him into a couple solid second-round picks or possibly a decent first-rounder.
That being said, I have a different New Year’s Resolution for the Blazers: do the best you can to stay at .500. If Portland can stay even in the wins and losses column for 2013, or at least the 13 part of the 12-13 season, they may not make the Playoffs, but they’ll have accomplished a whole lot more than even they probably expected.
The Blazers had a couple of chances to get to two games above .500 in 2012. They failed each time. Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, Portland will have their first chance in 2013 to not fail. They’ll have to do it by beating the Knicks, if not the best team in the East than at least the most surprising.
In my preview for the month ahead, I prognosticated that the Blazers would go 2-2 on the four-game bounce to start January. I guessed they’d win in Toronto and in the Twin Cities. However, if Portland is going to steal a game on this trip, it will be Tuesday’s at MSG. The Knicks can very easily overlook the Blazers, can you blame them? That, and they’ve lost to both the Kings and the Rockets, two teams Portland has beaten twice this season.
Don’t get your hopes up though. The Knicks are 21-9, and four of those nine losses happened in the last two weeks of December, one, to the Kings, was in their last game. New York is hurting for a win. The Blazers have recently faced a contending team in need of a win on the road. We all remember how that went right? (It was four days ago in Los Angeles and it didn’t go well)
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Victor Claver, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Knicks Starting 5: PG Jason Kidd, SG James White, SF Ronnie Brewer, PF Kurt Thomas, C Tyson Chandler
For Portland to stay close in Tuesday’s game and possibly have a chance at winning, they need to forget about the match-ups, they need to forget about records, they need to forget about the names on the back of their opponents’ jerseys or the name on the front of the building. If they don’t want to get run out of MSG, they need to keep their heads and run the plays that they’ve had success with.
If the Blazers can keep their offense from stalling out, if they can get easy scores both in the half-court and in the open court, and if they can limit New York’s second-chance and fast break point opportunities they might be able to give themselves a chance.
What to Watch For
- Who plays, for either team. Carmelo Anthony has missed two games with a hyper-extended left knee. He might come back Tuesday, he might not. I’ve gone with the starting lineup the Knicks used in their loss to the Kings in Sacramento on Friday, but it’s certainly subject to change. Along with Carmelo being injured, the Knicks will definitely be without Raymond Felton and will very likely be without Rasheed Wallace, two former Blazers of note who have had great moments so far as Knicks. For Portland, Meyers Leonard is out, Wesley Matthews too (most likely). The losses for New York are more significant than those for Portland. If Carmelo doesn’t play, the Blazers will already be better off than they probably expected to be. If Anthony does play, Portland will probably be in a lot of trouble.
- Can Portland keep J.R. Smith from going off. It’s a tall order to be certain, but it’s how J.R. plays that can determine a lot of games for the Knicks. Game planning for Smith is tough. He’s the kind of player who can kill teams in a variety of ways, but he’s also the kind of player opponents might think about giving some space to. Why would you give space to a guy who can shoot the lights out? Because he’s also the kind of player who can shoot his team out of a game. Of course, teams have to be careful, you let J.R. Smith go a little bit hoping that he’ll take horrible shots and sink his team, and then he’s got 40 and the game is over.
- The Blazers’ bench. Meyers Leonard is out, Victor Claver is in the starting line-up (most likely), so Portland’s bench is pretty thin. Jared Jeffries (a former Knick) might get some run. Joel Freeland too. Luke Babbitt and Will Barton are going to have to contribute. Same for Ronnie Price. Ronnie had a pretty nice game in Portland’s year-ending victory against the 76ers at the Rose Garden, and much of what he did failed to make the box score. If Price can help anchor the Blazers’ defense, and if he can enable Damian Lillard to get some good off the ball looks, that will really increase the value of Portland’s reserve core.