Game Time: 4:30 p.m. TV: CSNNW
Slumping, rudderless, not getting the most out of formerly-productive players: welcome to your 2011-12 New Portland Knickleblazers. OK, maybe they're not the exact same team but their current arcs parallel. The Knicks are 18-24, the Blazers 20-22. Neither one has beaten a good team in a while. The Knicks have lost 7 of 8, the Blazers 6 of 8. Something's got to give in this clash of anti-Titans.
Some of the stench rising from Madison Square Garden comes from the play of New York's nominal stars, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire has played impressively on offense the last couple weeks, but that defense...ugh! (Who could have predicted that?) Anthony has scored 20 in all four of his last outings but he's taken a bajillion shot to do it. He's just as self-centered as ever and that defense...ugh! (Who could have predicted that?) Put them together and you have a toxic mix of "Me shoot, you defend! No, you defend! No, you defend! Oh well, just let me shoot anyway." (Who could have predicted that?) In any case, both are producing poorly compared to their career apex.
At least Tyson Chandler is back on his feet after missing a couple games with a hamstring injury. He's doing all the heavy lifting defensively and he still rebounds well. Unfortunately for him Joel Przybilla is back with the Blazers. For those not familiar with Portland-New Orleans history Chandler and Przybilla get into a fight every time they play each other and Chandler always loses. No matter where he sticks that goat, Joel always seems to get it.
The Knicks made a splash recently signing former Nugget J.R. Smith from lockout-league exile. Smith's main attribute, besides the ability to jump out of the gym, is taking random shots whenever he feels like it. That's a perfect mesh for this team's nee...ooops.
6'5" Iman Shumpert plays defense and 6'7" guard Landry Fields rebounds from the backcourt, both in addition to scoring a little. Doing actual work makes them nonesuches among the smaller Knicks. Fields has gotten bigger minutes in recent games and is responding well.
That just leaves Jeremy Lin among the main rotation players. "Who?" you ask. "Never heard of him." I know, I know. His entry into New York's starting lineup was subtle. You may have missed it unless you were paying close attention. Here's the good news: Lin is still scoring, notching 14 twice, 15, and 20 twice in his last 5 games. He's also dishing, topping 7 assists in 4 of those 5 contests. Here's the bad news: his shooting percentages have been atrocious and his turnovers high. Here's the predictable news: because he's not averaging Hall-of-Fame numbers the media has now dropped him like a hot potato even though the story's still pretty good about the Knicks finding this guy averaging 15 points, 6 assists, and 2 steals from nowhere. Welcome to the viral age.
The rest of New York's lineup isn't much to write home about, as they mortgaged the farm to get Anthony. They got Baron Davis to help at point guard, which is a little bit like getting Lynda Carter to play the new Wonder Woman. This is after getting Mike Bibby, which is a little bit like casting Farrah Fawcett in the new Charlie's Angels. (I know, I shouldn't have said that. R.I.P. Farrah.) On the upside they do have cult hero Steve Novak at small forward. Dude is shooting the lights out too. Don't leave him open at the arc. Toney Douglas used to be a promising point guard but that was before he started shooting 32% from the field and 24% from distance. (a.k.a. "Pulling a Felton") I mean, what do you want? They pretty much ride Anthony, Stoudemire, and Lin as far as they can and beg everybody else to pick up the pieces.
The first clue that things aren't going right for the Knicks: they're 2nd in the league in possession and pace as befits a Mike D'Antoni team but they're 15th in fast break points scored per game, 28th in fast break efficiency. They're 4th in three-pointers attempted per game and 27th in three-point percentage. They're 25th in assists per possession and 28th in turnovers per possession. It's like someone took D'Antoni and told him to coach the team from hell. All the drawbacks of the Phoenix system, none of the benefits. Only their points in the paint and free throw attempts keep the scoreboard from being a disaster.
To their credit, the Knicks aren't a total waste of defensive space. They're middle-of-the-road in points in the paint allowed, fast break points allowed, and shooting percentage allowed. They do allow extra points at the free throw line and three-point arc both. They feast on turnovers. They're also good defensive rebounders. The hallmark of their recent woes, however, has been a total lack of defensive effort. They've allowed 100 or more in 5 of their 6 losses, 115 or more in 3.
In the normal course of things you'd say the Blazers should take this team. They probably will anyway. But the Blazers have been just as sloppy, unfocused, and uncoordinated as the Knicks lately. The Blazers defend better but they don't score as much. If nobody on the floor cares the Knicks' offense will beat Portland's and New York will walk away with this game. If the Blazers pay attention on the boards, neutralize Chandler, and get up in Lin's business the awkward duo of Anthony and Stoudemire probably won't be enough to turn the game.
Do the Blazers care, or are they so distracted by the trade deadline and/or lack of loyalty that they'll slouch their way through yet another loss?
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