The Blazers continue their four-game road trip tonight, taking on Raymond Felton and the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden.
New York forward Carmelo Anthony leads the NBA in shot-attempts per game with 21.3 -- just a hair above Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge's 21.1 -- and he's shooting relatively efficiently en route to 30 points a contest in his last five. Anthony's most dangerous shot is his three-pointer, which he's hitting at a 45.2 percent rate the last couple weeks. Half his shots come in the mid-range, where he's less deadly, but Anthony does take it to the rim with some regularity and converts about half his attempts in the paint. Expect Anthony to be very aggressive offensively tonight, as he's likely starting at power forward and the Blazers will have a tough time matching up with him unless Portland coach Terry Stotts opts to play more small-ball lineups than usual.
Guard J.R. Smith comes off the bench for New York coach Mike Woodson, but still is tied for second on the team in minutes per game, effectively playing starter's minutes. Most of Smith's offense comes on long jumpers and three-pointers, and he's been hot his last several games, shooting 50 percent from the field and over 53 percent from downtown on more than six threes a night. Smith went off for 30 points in a recent loss to the Bucks, attempting 11 three-pointers and cashing in on six of them.
Rookie guard Tim Hardaway Jr. has found his way on the court quite a bit lately, and his numbers the last five outings prove why: 17.4 points a game, 50.8 percent field-goal shooting and like Anthony and Smith, Hardaway Jr. has been on fire from outside, hitting 47.1 percent of his threes. He's a big threat from the corners, but is also reliable with his jumper and scores inside well.
Felton gets his shots, but is predictably less efficient than his aforementioned teammates, much to the chagrin of Knicks fans. Felton isn't the best penetrator, nor the best jump-shooter and Blazers fans are probably familiar with his struggles from outside the arc. He's capable of setting up teammates, and he has a host of weapons right now that he can distribute the ball to, though the Knicks' top-three scorers right now prefer to create off the dribble.
Guard Pablo Prigioni started last game in the backcourt with Iman Shumpert. Both are struggling from the field right now -- Shumpert, in particular -- but Prigioni chips in a 36.4 percentage from downtown, compared to the 20 percent from Shumpert his last five games. Both play less than normal starter minutes, too, because of the recent success of Smith and Hardaway Jr.
Forwards Jeremy Tyler, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin all score efficiently, but Martin was hurt and sat out the last game and none of them shoots particularly often. Stoudemire has been publicly lobbying his coach for more minutes lately, though, so it remains to be seen if he'll get the playing time he desires after being used somewhat sparingly by Woodson so far this season. Center Tyson Chandler is a great finisher near the hoop, but his ability to create his own shot is limited and so are his attempts most nights.
Woodson will likely opt to play smaller lineups tonight if recent history is any indication. This could mean that Stotts will either try to match up, playing Aldridge at center with Batum likely checking Anthony on defense or he'll play his normal rotation, taking advantage of smaller defenders when the Blazers have the ball. Either way, tonight's game has the makings of some interest match-ups across the board, due to New York's roster construction and Woodson's tendency to use players unconventionally at times -- last game against the Bucks, he started Chandler, Anthony and three guards, rotating in Hardaway Jr., Smith, Tyler and Stoudemire off the bench.
Portland's offense has hit a bit of a rough patch lately, with only guards Wesley Matthews and Mo Williams hitting over 35 percent of their three-pointers attempted the last five games. Point guard Damian Lillard is at 25.8 percent in that span, forward Nicolas Batum is at 17.6 percent and guard C.J. McCollum brings up the rear with 11.1 percent shooting downtown. Over their last ten games, the Blazers as a team have hit just 31.2 percent of their threes as the effective ball-movement has slowed a bit and the turnovers have increased slightly.
Batum and Matthews have been decent overall, both shooting around 44 percent the last several games. Adlridge is shooting less efficiently, too, but he also has padded his scoring at the line reasonably well. Tonight, there doesn't seem to be a player outside of Chandler in New York's likely frontcourt rotation of Anthony, Tyler and Stoudemire who can match up with Aldridge very well when he has the ball, so don't be surprised to see an aggressive Aldridge. Of course, Woodson might opt to double-team him, so keep an eye on Aldridge's passing when the extra defender comes.
Lillard isn't far behind his season average on field-goals, pouring in 25 points on 8-19 shooting against the improved, vaunted defense of Washington's John Wall a few nights ago. Is Lillard turning the corner on what's been a rough couple weeks for him? Last game against New York, back in late November, Lillard hit 9 of his 20 shots and poured in 23 points, so his upward trend he started Monday night against the Wizards may continue tonight, especially if Felton is checking him the majority of the game.
McCollum and Williams, the two highest-volume shooters off the bench for Stotts, are both shooting at pretty low percentages. Forward Thomas Robinson doesn't shoot much and is inconsistent when he does, but his frontcourt teammates Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland have both had steady field-goal percentages all year, albeit in relatively low attempts with a lot of them being close put-backs.
Like the offense, Portland's defense has also dipped the last several weeks. Over the last 10 games, the Blazers have allowed 46.7 percent shooting from the field and 43.2 percent from outside, tough figures to overcome when the offense isn't clicking. Portland will need to adjust its defense of the three-point line tonight, because the Knicks have four or five players currently who can punish a team from deep, with Anthony able to do it off the dribble.
Fortunately for the Blazers, the production outside of Anthony, Hardway Jr. and Smith has been limited for New York, so stopping one of them from having a big night would go a long way toward a win. Stopping or severely slowing down two of their big-three would make a victory even more attainable.
The Knicks can shut down the paint, limit field-goals and force turnovers. They do not, however, defend the perimeter very well and if Portland can get the ball moving, the team will find open shots.
Chandler is New York's best individual rebounder, followed by Tyler and Stoudemire, both playing inconsistent minutes. The Blazers' entire frontcourt rebounds very well, contributing to good team rebounding. Portland should have an edge tonight on the boards, but the Knicks have out-rebounded a lot of their opposition lately so the Blazers can't sleep on a team that might look a bit overmatched on paper.
Even though three of New York's players -- Anthony, Hardaway Jr. and Smith -- are playing some of their best basketball of the season, the supporting cast for the Knicks has been pretty mediocre lately. Even so, the Blazers haven't been consistently good on either end of the court for a handful of games, either. If Portland can get Aldridge going and get some of its other shooters back on track, this is definitely a winnable game, especially if any of the Knicks' top scorers can be slowed down significantly. If the Blazers fail to stop New York's onslaught from outside and can't answer with some offensive production of their own, though, they're going to have a difficult time pulling out a win tonight.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter