Madison Square Garden will be buzzing tonight as the Portland Trail Blazers (34-14) come into town to face the New York Knicks (19-29). The Trail Blazers are looking to avoid their fifth straight road loss after losing in Washington (100-90). The Knicks are also looking to avoid a loss, which would be their third straight overall.
The Trail Blazers have been in an offensive slump. In the first half against Washington, it seemed as though the rust was finally coming off. Their performance in the second half proved that assumption wrong. The Trail Blazers shot 61 percent in the first half only to follow it up with a 14 point third quarter in which they shot 35 percent. What happened to the consistent, solid third quarter play? That used to be a quarter the Trail Blazers thrived in but lately it has been their Achilles heel. Let’s not forget about the road woes that have surfaced. Four straight losses by an average of 11.5 points. Something has to change and the Blazers better figure it out fast.
The Knicks have been on a roller coaster ride all season. Four game win streak here, five game losing streak there. Who are the real New York Knicks? They are coming off an embarrassing loss (101-98) on Monday to Milwaukee, the NBA’s worst team. This will be their second and final meeting of the year with Portland. On November 25 in the Rose City, the Trail Blazers put away the Knicks 102-91. With both teams seeking to snap losing streaks, it should be an entertaining game at the Garden.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- No injuries to report.
New York Knicks:
- Andrea Bargnani (elbow) will not play due to a torn ligament in his shooting elbow.
- Kenyon Martin (ankle) did not play against Milwaukee on Monday but is listed as day-to-day.
- Beno Udrih (illness) has not played in five consecutive games. There have been no updates on his status since he first sat out. He did request a trade on January 20 so that may be why we haven’t seen him play.
- Iman Shumpert played on Monday but has been struggling with a shoulder injury.
Keys To The Game
LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Carmelo Anthony. LaMarcus was the only glimmer of hope for the Trail Blazers on Monday. He was 10-18 from the field and had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Even though the league MVP chatter has quieted, mostly due to the inhuman performances by Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge is still the MVP for the Trail Blazers. He must continue to provide offense for a team that is struggling on that end. Carmelo Anthony has never had a big problem with his individual offense, especially against the Trail Blazers. In the last six games against the Trail Blazers, Anthony has averaged 35.3 points while shooting 48 percent from 3-point range. If he gets matched up with Aldridge, you can bet that he will draw him away from the basket and force him to guard against the jump shot.
Feed Nicolas Batum. Carmelo may be hot against the Trail Blazers but Batum has been hot against the Knicks. In the last three games against New York, which have been Blazers victories, Batum has averaged 21.7 points. As mentioned, the Trail Blazers need all of the offense they can get these days. I would suggest that they look to Batum tonight and see if they can get him going early. If history repeats itself, the momentum will be in the Blazers favor when Batum scores.
Will The Real Damian Lillard Please Stand Up? Lillard is by far one of the up and coming stars of the NBA. Everyone knows he is the real deal and will likely be one of the top five point guards in the NBA at some point. The first part of the season was electric for Lillard. He was scoring in multiple ways and gaining national coverage for his game closing abilities. The last five games have been a little different story. His points per game has dropped but not enough to be concerned about. The real problem is the 3-point percentage. On the season, Lillard is shooting 40.9 percent from downtown. The last five games, that percent has dropped to 25.8 percent. If Lillard wants to continue his rise to the top, he must learn how to be more consistent with every aspect of his game.