Portland Trail Blazers (15-4) vs. New York Knicks (4-17)
Sunday, December 7
Madison Square Garden; New York, NY | 4:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: C.J. McCollum, Dorell Wright (probable) | Out for the Knicks: Cleanthony Early, Andrea Bargnani
SBN Affiliate: Posting & Toasting | Timmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Knicks Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers kick off a five-game road trip this afternoon when they take on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
This past spring, the Knicks hired team president Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher -- who played under Jackson for several years with the Lakers -- to install the triangle offense in New York.
So far, though, the results of the new offense have been underwhelming as the Knicks sit at 4-17, losers of seven straight games. Fisher has rolled out 11 different starting lineups through 21 games so far, entirely unable to settle on a consistent playing rotation.
Some blame New York's poor play on injuries and an unfamiliarity with the triangle offense, but many experts think the Knicks are just completely devoid of bankable talent outside of forward Carmelo Anthony and -- this feels weird to type -- guard Jose Calderon.
Sure, guard J.R. Smith can be a potent scorer, but a motion-based offense that requires a willingness to pass doesn't exactly suit his skillset. Second-year guards Tim Hardaway Jr. and Shane Larkin have proven to be effective pieces in minor roles, but neither is the star Fisher needs to ride alongside Anthony. Forward Quincy Acy and guard Iman Shumpert are equally limited, and bigs Amar'e Stoudemire and Samuel Dalembert are far past their respective primes, shells of their former selves.
The unspectacular on-court production for New York is indicative of a team struggling to find its identity. The Knicks are dead-last in the NBA in points scored per game over the last five, only notching 87.8 points per contest in that time. Their 41.1 percent field goal shooting (No. 28 in the league) in that span ranks them just slightly above their 28.6 percent conversion-rate from beyond the arc (No. 27). New York struggles to move the ball around effectively and barely gets to the free throw line. Don't expect them to score much on the fast break or inside the paint, either, as the Knicks get about as much of their offense from the midrange as the Blazers.
Fisher goes deep with his erratic rotations, getting all 13 of his available players at least four minutes in a 103-102 loss to the Hornets Friday night. Over the last five games, 13 players have averaged at least 8.5 minutes a night.
Anthony leads the charge in this disjointed iteration of the triangle, launching 22.3 shots per game over the last five. He appears to be taking shots within the offense, though, as 54.5 percent of his shots have been assisted lately -- last year, just 38.6 percent of Anthony's made field goals came via assists. He's a decent midrange shooter, and he prefers to take jumpers and outside shots, only going to the basket for 29.2 percent of his field goal attempts. Anthony's shooting just 20.8 percent on six three-point attempts per game recently, though, and he's predictably a key part of Fisher's offense, leading the team the last five games with four assists per night.
Hardaway Jr. has played just 19.2 minutes per game in that span, but is second on the team in field goal attempts, putting up 10 a night.
(Sidenote: For those wondering, the gap between the Knicks' top-2 players in field goals attempted per game is a dozen shots.)
Hardaway Jr. goes to the rim for a quarter of his shots, able to hit two-thirds of them. The rest of his attempts come from the midrange and beyond, and his jumper has been broken lately as he's made just 36 percent of his field goals and 28.6 percent of his threes.
Stoudemire's seen an uptick in minutes recently, getting plenty of time at the power forward spot. Most of his shots come right under the basket, where he's been very good at converting when given the opportunity. Starting at shooting guard, Shumpert's struggled with his shooting and has been abysmal lately from outside. Smith, his backup, hasn't fared much better from inside the arc, but has hit 42.9 percent of his threes the last five games, and he -- not surprisingly -- seems pretty willing to launch contested outside jumpers off the dribble.
At this point in his career, Calderon is mostly a jumpshooter, creating almost half his own offense. He's great from the midrange and serviceable from outside, making 38.1 percent of his threes the last five games.
Dalembert has been terrible lately in limited attempts, while Acy has proven that he's a solid interior scorer but rarely gets looks. Larkin has hit 46.2 percent of his threes the last five games, but only takes just over four shots a night.
Centers Jason Smith and Cole Adrich, forward Travis Wear and point guard Pablo Prigioni should all see a handful of minutes tonight, but none should be expected to impact the offense heavily.
Defensively, the Knicks have managed to keep games ugly, allowing just 96.4 points per game the last five and holding opponents' field goal shooting pretty low from all areas of the court. They don't force many turnovers, but they play transition defense fairly well and also don't usually allow a lot of scoring inside.
The Blazers come into tonight's matchup having won 12 of their last 13 games, though their recent offensive stats are not particularly pretty. Portland's in the bottom-third of the NBA in both field goal percentage (43.5) and three-point shooting percentage (31.3) the last five games, and have been average in points scored and assists. On the bright side, they're hardly turning the ball over.
The Blazers' defense doesn't force turnovers or prevent teams from scoring with a decent amount of efficiency inside the arc, but opponents have only been able to get up 15 three-pointers a game against them the last five matchups. This can partially be attributed to playing teams that don't get up many outside shots in general, though, and Portland needs to be prepared for the Knicks to get up a couple dozen threes tonight.
Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has taken about 58 percent of his attempts from the midrange lately, though he's only cashed in on 37.7 percent of them. He hasn't managed to shoot much better near the rim, either, as he's only been good for 53.6 percent of his looks from inside the last five games. Aldridge went 7-for-21 Thursday night against the Pacers, but a frontcourt featuring Roy Hibbert and David West is much more daunting than that of the Knicks, who trot out Dalembert, Stoudemire, Acy, Smith and Aldrich down low. Expect Aldridge to get plenty of good looks tonight.
Point guard Damian Lillard went 7-for-15 from the floor against Indiana Thursday night and just 1-for-5 from deep, but hit eight of his 11 free throws to lead the Blazers with 23 points. His midrange jumper -- which he goes to for about a quarter of his attempts -- looks nice lately, but his finishing inside has been lacking and Lillard's ability to hit threes is down from 40.7 percent on the season to just 25.8 percent the last five games.
Guard Wesley Matthews has made just 1-of-15 three-point tries the last two games, though he'd been on fire from outside before that. He's made over half his total field goals the last five games, and has been solid from 10-15 feet out. Matthews has also missed a lot of corner three-pointers lately, a shot that he normally hits from both sides with relative consistency, so he's bound to start sinking his outside shots sooner or later.
Small forward Nicolas Batum, on the other hand, hasn't shot three-pointers well all season and is sitting at just eight percent from deep the last five games after going 1-for-5 from distance Thursday night against the Pacers. His assists are up, and he contributes with rebounding, blocks and steals while rarely turning the ball over for someone who initiates the offense somewhat often from the small forward position.
Centers Robin Lopez and Chris Kaman continued their cold shooting against Indiana, neither eclipsing 44.4 percent shooting from the floor the last five games.
Guards Steve Blake and Allen Crabbe have been Portland's best outside shooters off the bench lately -- even after a combined 0-for-4 performance outside against the Pacers -- but neither really gets up many shots, either. Big man Joel Freeland has hit over half his attempts, limited as they may be, doing so mostly in catch-and-shoot situations.
As a team, the Knicks rebound better than the Blazers on the offensive end by percentage, while Portland has the advantage on the defensive side of the ball. Overall, the matchup on the boards tonight is surprisingly even, as Stoudemire, Dalembert and Anthony all contribute on the glass consistently while the Blazers rely pretty heavily on Aldridge, though Kaman's and Lopez' respective abilities to box out their men go unreflected in the box score.
The Knicks sport a terrible record heading into tonight's matchup, but they're not getting blown out often. Their ability to keep games at a plodding pace usually keeps opponents' field goals attempted and point totals fairly low and their defense hasn't been that bad lately. New York struggles to manufacture enough offense to win many games, though, and the Blazers showed Thursday night that they're capable of winning when the pace is slow.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter