Update (Tuesday): Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire is expected to play on Tuesday for the first time this season. -- Ben
Ladies and Gentlemen, say hello to your 2012-13 New York Knicks. They're 21-9 on the season, carrying the 5th best record in the league into their contest tonight with Portland. It begins at 4:30 p.m. Pacific and will be televised on CSNNW.
A couple of pieces of good news greet the Blazers as they disembark in the Big Apple. First, the 9 Knicks losses have mostly come against so-so teams, a notch higher than the Blazers in some cases but not a huge notch. The Knicks are playing well; they're not unbeatable. Second, All-Mr-Everything for the Knicks this year, Carmelo Anthony, is almost certainly totally probably not going to play tonight. He's had ankle problems, knee problems...he needs to rest, right? Don't rush back on our account, champ. Enjoy a huge New Year's Eve bash and sleep through the next day.
Without Anthony's 28.5 points, 6 rebounds, 47% shooting, 26 PER (need I go on?) the Knicks look fairly normal, especially since Star Forward #2--A'm'a're''' Stoudemire--has been out all season with knee issues of his own. Don't rush back on our account, buddy. Enjoy a huge New Year's Eve bash with 'Melo and crash on his couch.
(And they look even more normal now that starting point guard Raymond Felton is out with a fractured pinkie. Don't rush back on our account, old friend. Enjoy the buffet at the Carmelo-A'm'a'r'e' N.Y.E. bash and sleep it off under the couch that Stoudemire is crashing on.)
So who exactly is left here? If you want scoring it's J.R. Smith. Head Coach Mike Woodson is following the N.B.A. bible which reads, "Never, ever, EVER start J.R. Smith." He's snickering behind his hand, however, as "non-starter" Smith played 43 minutes and shot 25 times in New York's last game while the nominal starter, James White, played 9 minutes and shot thrice.
Jason Kidd slides into the starting point guard role with Felton out. Tyson Chandler mans the middle. Portland fans are familiar with both from playoffs past. Ronnie Brewer and former Blazer Kurt Thomas fill out the starting lineup but the rotation is liquid. Steve Novak and mega-hot-shooting rookie forward Chris Copeland are liable to eat plenty of minutes if they're on. Another former Blazer, Marcus Camby, bolsters the frontcourt from the bench.
We could talk about the overall stats of the Knicks but they don't make much sense with this much of the lineup out. Instead let's talk about what the Blazers should fear, take advantage of, and have questions about.
- Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby would be fantastic additions for the Blazers, as they'd fill a gaping hole in the roster. J.J. Hickson is doing an admirable job but real centers with real rebounding sometimes cause real problems for the Blazers. Meyers Leonard's sprained ankle doesn't help matters. The bonus here is that both New York bigs specialize in defense. It's not like Hickson will get blown away in the post. Nor are the Knicks proficient at offensive rebounding as a general rule. (If the Blazers allow them, however, they'll take advantage. This would be a sign the game is going poorly for Portland.) New York is a fine, fine defensive rebounding team. Portland generates easy (OK, easier) points from offensive rebounds. If the Knicks force the Blazers into one-and-done, Portland's field goal percentage better be pretty high.
- Jason Kidd has height and experience on Damian Lillard and just about everybody else the Blazers will throw at him. This is nothing new, of course. But if the Knicks are going to prosper tonight Kidd's three-point shooting and passing could be key.
- The Knicks are a brilliant three-point shooting team. Normally the willingness to out-three the opponent is a Blazer advantage. The Knicks shoot more threes than anybody in the league. Worse, while the Blazers have pretensions to beyond-the-arc stardom New York's percentage from distance makes Portland look less Hollywood and more Jersey Shore. Granted, Anthony is one of their best gunners but everybody else on the team shoots well too.
- Smith is streaky, but who's going to force his streak the bad way? With Wesley Matthews either slow or out the Blazers might be forced to shift Nicolas Batum over. Can Batum handle Smith all game long? Can the other Blazers help out and then get back to those shooters?
- The Knicks ain't got no forwards. The Blazers have at least two good ones. With Anthony out, LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Anyone is the biggest matchup advantage in this game. And how many Knicks forwards will want to chase around Batum?
- The Knicks neither score nor allow many fast break points. Providing the rebounding stays kosher, the Blazers might be able to change part of that equation. If Portland plays offense in fast mode, even if they don't score off the break outright, they make the game harder for Kidd and Chandler, dulling two potential New York advantages. Lillard, Batum, Will Barton...these guys should probably run as soon as Portland captures the ball.
- Under normal circumstances the Knicks don't turn over the ball. They force the other team into plenty, however. This would be a bad, bad sign for the Blazers since Portland often feeds on turnovers for momentum and occasionally gets on sloppy turnover jags themselves. Without their normal lineup the Knicks committed a whopping 17 in their last game versus Sacramento, forcing only 11. Can the Blazers force a similar number and keep their own turnovers moderate? If so, that's a big advantage.
- How much are Kidd's eyes lighting up here? Even ancient as he is, Kidd knows how to defend. Old-timers tend to light up when they see potential Rookies of the Year come into town. If Kidd takes a "Not here, not tonight, not in this lifetime" approach to Lillard, can Damian respond or will he shoot 4-18 with 5 assists? If Kidd doesn't step up, though, well...Kidd is 39 years old. Lillard should be able to get a step on him. How this matchup goes could determine the course of the evening.
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