This game starts at 3:00 p.m. on CSN.
A Look at the Knicks
We claimed in a preview earlier in the year that you didn't really have to look at the Knicks to understand their style of play, just look at their coach. Near the top of the league in shots taken, near the bottom in shots allowed, indifferent-to-bad rebounding, high assists, low blocks, horrible percentage allowed...hello Mike D'Antoni! For better or worse, Coach D'Antoni's crowd-and-player-pleasing style is in full effect in New York. The Knicks aren't doing horribly with it. They come into this game 21-28 with Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix, New Orleans, Boston, and Utah among their victims. They are no threat to duplicate the recent-vintage Suns, mostly because they don't shoot anything like them. Their 44% field goal clip is 29th in the league. Their 35.8% three-point percentage is good for 19th. They don't draw a lot of fouls either. This means even with the abundance of shots they are totaling a semi-respectable 104.2ppg, good for 6th in the league. The Suns were at or near #1 in all of these categories during their up years.
The Knicks are dangerous, however. One of the upsides of the D'Antoni system is that it frees everyone to score. Isiah Thomas spent years adding nothing but scorers to that roster and even the recent gutting of the team hasn't left them bereft. Al Harrington has been producing all season (20 ppg average) but Chris Duhon, David Lee, Nate Robinson, Quentin Richardson, and Wilson Chandler have all led the team in scoring at least twice this year, all topping 20 points to do so. They can, and do, hit you from everywhere and they don't give you time to adjust. With these particular players the style has taken an otherwise dubiously-talented hodgepodge of scorers and produced just about as many wins as the team saw in two of its three prior seasons.
The danger for Portland is that they've been trying to win games with offense lately and that's just what the Knicks want you to do. If you remember the recent Suns you know that they were happy to play live-and-let-live basketball even if it meant you scored 30 in a quarter sometimes. They knew that they could keep up the scoring longer and that they would eventually catch you. Last time these two teams met the Blazers won by 7 but it was an uncomfortable experience. The Knicks jumped out to an early lead as Portland fired away from the perimeter and played indifferent defense. It took a heroic fourth quarter spearheaded by Joel Przybilla and the bench to wrest the game away, plus some nifty distance shooting by Steve Blake and Rudy Fernandez. The lethargic effort has continued for the Blazers but the sweet outside shooting and dominating bench play have been in shorter supply.
Keys to the Game
1. One of the main factors in Portland's victory in December was a massive rebounding advantage. The Knicks don't exactly pride themselves on board mastery and something would be terribly wrong if the Blazers actually lost the battle. Even so, just good enough is not good enough. Portland needs to own the boards like Ben Golliver owns that vintage floral tie collection. That means they have to cherish it, run it through their fingers, sleep with it under their pillow at night and then get up in the morning, iron it whip-tight, and slap it on, ready to face a brand new day at work. We better see a big-time rebounding-fest tonight.
To this end I have four words for you: Box Out David Lee. If you do that, 75% of your headache is gone.
2. Unlike most teams, it's no good trying to take out a pillar of their scoring foundation or watching an area of the floor specifically against the Knicks. Instead your defense needs to be mobile and adaptable. You're going to have to deal with Al Harrington's post and mid-range game, Nate Robinson's drives, Duhon and Richardson shooting, and Lee down deep. Wherever the Knicks go, you have to be there and you can't overcommit or they'll just toss it where you ain't. This is going to be a huge challenge for Portland the way they've played lately. The constant need for help on drivers and bailing out on picks is going to be an issue. Defending the Knicks well isn't rocket science. You need to stay in front of them and get a hand in their face on jumpers. Boom...you win. But those are two things Portland hasn't done consistently for the last couple months. For all of the versatility in the lineup, you're not exactly playing Kobe Bryant and LeBron James here. Can somebody please move their feet and anticipate a little instead of reacting, getting behind, and either giving up fouls or a bucket?
3. That said, you ALWAYS want to defend in transition. You can't just have one guy back against the Knicks either. You need the whole team hustling to prevent the break and the secondary break. You cannot have both the 9th and 10th guys getting down the court on each possession and win against this team.
4. Keeping in mind Point 2 above...the Knicks have had three straight losses to three of the best teams in the league (L*kers, Celtics, Cavaliers). One common denominator has been Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson both having substandard games. If you were to pick a place to squeeze the Knicks, try the backcourt. If their scoring game isn't working well the other parts of the game tend to fall apart for those guards, and thus for the team.
5. If points were perfume the Knicks would be those annoying ladies at the department store counter.
Here, smell this! (Spritz. Spritz. )
No, really, I don't want any.
But this suits you so well! (Spritz. Spritz.)
Please, I could be allergic to...
Not to this! It's all-natural and hypoallergenic. (Spritz. Spritz.)
Please, miss! I'm just here to look at lawnmowers!
Anyway, I'm kind of assuming that our regular scorers won't get out of this game without collecting more points than they can handle. I'm also assuming at least one or two Knicks will do the same. The difference is likely to come down to the supporting cast again, which for Portland means the second unit. Travis, Jerryd, Rudy...this is your night. Feast away, score like crazy, make a bigger difference than your counterparts.
The loss in Choklahoma City puts a fair amount of pressure on this game. If the Blazers want to make the playoffs by anything beyond the skin of their teeth this stretch provides the best opportunity for them to do so. Six wins in seven games is the standard and at least five is mandatory. We've already lost one. It's not that this group of games will make or break the team, but we can do this the easy way or the hard way. The other night the Blazers looked pretty invested in doing it the hard way. They're capable, but that's neither smart nor what an experienced, motivated team would do. Really good teams don't fool around against lesser opponents. They may fall behind in a game, but they take care of business and almost always come out on top in the end. They don't give these games away. Portland had better not either or they may learn a difficult lesson about the difference between getting to win easy games in February and having to win murderous ones in the heart of March.
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Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here. (Don't forget the early game start.)