The Portland Trail Blazers enter their home game against the New York Knicks as the unquestioned favorites to win. The Trail Blazers (12-2) have won their last 10 games, while the Knicks (3-9) have lost their last 5. Additionally, the Knicks’ only victories thus far have come against the Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Bobcats, and Atlanta Hawks; hardly stiff competition.
When we examine the causes of New York’s recent woes, things look even better for Portland. The Knicks will be without starting center Tyson Chandler (fractured leg) and starting point guard Raymond Felton (pinched nerve in hip). In their absence, the Knicks have fallen into a tie with the Bucks for 26th-worst defensive efficiency rating in the NBA.
Perhaps this is because they’re starting Andrea Bargnani as a replacement center. The 7’0” Italian is a terrible help defender, allowing opposing guards to score at will. In fact, the Knicks as a whole have allowed a league-worst 26.7 points per 48 minutes from opposing point guards. If there was ever a game for Damian Lillard to shake his shooting slump, it’s this one.
The Knicks’ offense makes me nervous, though. Okay, that’s a stretch—Carmelo Anthony’s offense makes me nervous. Any time an opponent possesses an unconscious scorer, there’s no counting them out. The 2013 scoring leader dropped 45 on the Blazers in Madison Square Garden when they met on New Year’s Day (though the Blazers ended up winning anyway).
So here is what needs to happen:
The Trail Blazers have to contain Carmelo Anthony. Notice I didn’t single out one defender—Carmelo is a threat from everywhere. Batum has to nag him at the perimeter, Aldridge has to help at the elbow, and Robin Lopez has to keep him out of the restricted area. None of this is easy. Thank goodness Carmelo infrequently uses the pick and roll or the Trail Blazers would have no chance at this.
Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and Mo Williams have to play aggressively. How often do guards get to face a frontcourt duo as defensively inept as Anthony and Bargnani? We may have found the one instance in which Mo’s “running in circles” technique will prove effective. By that token, they have to attack swiftly and creatively. I want to see stutter steps and back-cuts for 48 minutes.
LaMarcus Aldridge has to show up. He has to put on the uniform, tie his shoes, maybe grab a light snack, and play basketball. The Trail Blazers proved they could still win while he struggled against the Bulls (4-20 shooting), but let’s try to keep the margin larger than 3 points. If LaMarcus has just a decent game I will be content. The Trail Blazers are deep enough to cover their ground as a team this year.
This game should be relatively easy; though, in the NBA, “relatively” is relative. It will be a four quarter fight, and Portland has to have their gloves up the whole time. The easiest way to get knocked out of a winning streak is to underestimate an opponent that is backed into a corner. If they can put the Knicks away tonight, their streak will be extended to 11 for a record of 13-2.
Tags: Portland Trail Blazers