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Portland Trailblazers vs. New York Knicks Preview

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We sit down with Matthew Miranda of SB Nation's Knicks affiliate "Posting and Toasting." OK, we sat down at computers days apart and had a modern pseudo-conversation. But it's good anyhow.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (32-28) at New York Knicks (25-36)
Tuesday, March 1
Madison Square Garden | 4:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report
: None | New York injury report: Arron Afflalo (Knee - Game-time decision); Cleanthony Early (Knee, gunshot wound outside a club, #Knicks - Out Indefinitely)
SBN Affiliate: Posting and Toasting | Blazer's Edge Night 2016

Matthew Miranda, a member of the sublimely innovative and quirky blog "Posting and Toasting," joins us to preview the 'Bockers game.

Blazer's Edge: OK, let’s get the awkward "ex" stuff out on the table: How are Robin and Arron?

Matthew Miranda: The three bright spots of the 2016 Knicks have been the pretty-healthy-and-pretty-good-again-ness of Carmelo Anthony, the holy-$#&!-ness of Kristaps Porzingis, and Robin Lopez. Despite playing his fewest minutes since he was a New Orleans Hornet, Lopez has taken to the Triangle offense pretty quickly and surprised people with his effectiveness scoring in the paint. His shot looks like a soldier lobbing a hand grenade, but it works. The defense and hustling were expected but are still appreciated. Also, with his brother in Brooklyn we're guaranteed a minimum of 4 days a year where every local newspaper runs a "Hey! Brook and Robin Lopez are quirky! And twins!" feature.

"Mixed" describes Arron Afflalo's season. He's had some big games scoring-wise, but his shot selection is criminally negligent and it didn't take the NBA long to figure out a backcourt of Afflalo and Jose Calderon is so slow it can't even keep the future in front of it. Lately he's caught a lot of grief from fans. Still, his numbers are up this year and Afflalo can either accept an $8 million option for next year or opt out and enter free agency with the cap rising. It'll be interesting to see if he stays or goes, and what the Knicks do if he opts out.

The fans seem pretty happy most of the time with Lopez. Afflalo is more highs and lows.

BE: That’s super.  Huh! That’s great. Just so lovely to hear. Wow! Good for them!

*Awkward silence that carries on a couple beats too long*

...So yeah, for a while there in January, I was telling my hoops head friends that they should watch a Knicks game: "The Knicks are watchable, everybody!  Heck, they’re even fun!" Then they started playing Sasha Vujacic 12 minutes a game again. Now Derrick Williams’ energizing dunks and Jerian Grant’s kamikaze drives are mostly seen in promo ads rather than on-court. Why did the whole organization conspire to make a liar out of me?

MM: The thing about the Knicks is they inspire exaggeration. Win four of five? Here comes the sun! Drop four in a row? Phil Jackson sucks!

The truth is they're probably going to win like 30-34 games, which would double their total from a year ago and which is where most predictions had them. They were competitive for half the year and starting to look good on offense, until Carmelo fell on a ref and hurt his ankle against the Celtics. He missed some time, the Knicks lost an overtime game to the Thunder, then lost a little more, and a little more, and soon a little more was 13 out of 15.

Derrick Williams is worth what they pay him to be, which is an eighth man with some pretty sweet dunks. If the team ran more, Williams would have more chances to play to his strengths. There was hope that Jerian Grant would help push the pace, but while he's played okay since Kurt Rambis replaced Derek Fisher, Grant's struggled most of the year. But the Knicks don't have a single starting-caliber guard on the roster. They're kicking the tires on Jimmer Fredette. Sasha Vujacic getting playing time feels more like stale performance art: no one understands it and you're just waiting for it to end. It's 2016 and I'm talking about Jimmer and Sasha. That says it all.

BE:  Well, just tell Robin that the Blazers are once again a very watchable team. So we're doing just fine. And ask him if he misses us.

*Puts down framed photo of RoLo that was picked up and stared at since around the time when Jimmer Fredette was mentioned*

...So are there any good stories circulating on the firing of Derek Fisher?  They don’t have to be true or anything, just good.

MM: By now everyone has probably heard the most salacious Fisher firing rumors regarding rude canoodling with women who'd been with/were with his former teammates and players. The big takeaways from the fallout were Phil Jackson suggesting Fisher had ignored Phil's insights and that there was/is apparently a coaching staff schism between Phil's old guard from Chicago & L.A. and Fisher's boys from OKC. Jackson's first choice as coach, Steve Kerr, is on the fast track to Springfield; his second choice, Fisher, is on the fast track to the blacklist. Most fans feel resigned to the next Knick coach being another unproven branch from the Triangle tree.

BE:  One of those supposed marks against Fisher was that he didn’t run the triangle enough. Is there any noticeable difference in X’s and O’s, rotations, and social media strategy since Kurt Rambis took over?

MM: The Triangle dogma is probably overstated with the Knicks. A lot of the league, including some of its most successful offenses (San Antonio, Atlanta, Golden State), run Triangle elements, and while the Knicks may run less pick-and-roll than the average, look at their backcourt and tell me who should be getting more PnR reps. Grant is probably already their best PnR guard and has a good chemistry with Porzingis, but his shooting struggles have made his playing time erratic, while Langston Galloway alternates between tremendous and invisible.

Rambis has continued some of Fisher's strange rotation patterns. Kyle O'Quinn had his best game in months last Wednesday against the Pacers, scoring 19 points in 16 minutes. One game later he played 5 minutes; the next he was a DNP. Good thing they gave him a four-year deal.

Apparently Rambis may watch porn. Apparently someone somewhere considered this scandalous. Apparently the Knicks are a bottomless pit of we-can-make-anything-worse-ness, because instead of simply letting the story die off, they claimed Rambis' Twitter account was hacked. Because #Knicks. The major difference between Fisher and Rambis is their attitude toward the media. Fisher was so tight-lipped about everything it seemed if you asked him whether the sky was blue he'd rather bite on a cyanide capsule hidden in a false tooth than answer the question. Rambis, on the other hand, is very open with the press, which runs counter to owner James Dolan's usual media policy and yet another reason it's unlikely Kurt's coaching this team after April.

BE: James Dolan should really stick to his own media policy, especially when it comes to foisting his personal blues band on people.

Yep, no way to transition away from that, really painted myself in a corner...your site recently did a roundtable on what the Knicks' goals should be for the rest of the year. Your stated goal was "Kristaps Kristaps Kristaps Kristaps Kristaps Kristaps Kristaps Kristaps Kristaps" et al, concluding "Kristaps -- Kristaps.  Kristaps?  Kristaps!"  Could you elaborate?

MM: Porzingis is the Knicks' best prospect since Patrick Ewing 30 years ago. One reason there's such excitement around him is his ability to impact the game in so many ways even beyond scoring - he rebounds, he blocks shots, and he's a playmaking four/five. Ironically, the biggest question still about his game - beyond "Will he gain weight?" - is his shooting, which is the one skill that was most hyped about him. If that takes a jump next year, you're looking at the first of many All-Star appearances. Every night he does something you've never seen before. There's an air of limitlessness to KP. More than cap space, more than Madison Square Garden, more than New York City, he represents the team's best chance of attracting the best players in the future.

BE: Carmelo Anthony has been playing more team-oriented ball then we’re used to seeing from him, with his highest assist and rebound rates and the lowest usage rate since his second year in the league.  I mean his mom probably always believed he could do it, but…..to what do we owe this sublimation of ego? And how long is this ‘New Melo’ here for? Will he be around at least till Porzingis is old enough to drink?

MM: The two main factors behind Carmelo's all-around play this year are probably injuries and Porzingis. Melo is 31 and coming off injuries the past few years to his shoulder and his knee. It seems probable he'd like to handle less of the scoring burden as his prime slips further into the past. Also it's soooo obvious watching him play that he already trusts Porzingis more than he ever did Amar'e Stoudemire. Anthony is strikingly aggressive about getting KP involved and getting him going on offense; it's really unprecedented, actually. He trusts the rookie, regularly passing up spots he'd usually take to feed Porzingis. If you want a conspiracy theory (meaning something that's probably true but no one will admit until way down the line), it's possible Melo got his big contract two summers ago and is now showcasing everything he can to appeal to contenders who might trade for him this summer.

BE:  We're Oregon. We rank pretty high on conspiracy-theorists per capita, so thanks for feeding the beast. In the first meeting this year in Portland, Lance Thomas, O’Quinn, and Williams had near-perfect performances off the bench to help the Knicks squeak out a comeback win. Are there any Knicks that Blazers fans should be particularly wary about this time around?

MM: Galloway always plays hard. Some nights he looks like he should be starting; if he gets off to a hot start, keep an eye on him. Same for Grant: if he hits an early jumper or two, he may have a good night in store. The last thing the Knicks want is watching Calderon and Afflalo playing long minutes against Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Lance Thomas is beyond any rational system of analysis or prediction. You don't forecast Lance. You just soak it in.

BE: Anybody on the Blazers who particularly concerns you? Aside from Chris Kaman, who can be concerning in a more general, non-basketball type of way.

MM: I think I forgot about Kaman's existence until you mentioned it. Shout out to Moe Harkless, product of St. John's. Lillard is a joy to watch, and McCollum is one of my favorite young players. Allen Crabbe seems to do something good every time I watch the Blazers. Gerald Henderson, for reasons I cannot explain, kills the Knicks once a year. Meyers Leonard is almost too handsome for me to handle sometimes; it's like looking directly at the sun.

BE: Yeah, and sometimes combined with his erratic play he goes full solar eclipse and is actually injurious to observe without proper eyewear. On a related note, Portland fans can pray for a substitution snafu which would result in a mouth-watering pairing of Jose Calderon and Vujacic at guard, but the last time the Knicks tried to slow down the Blazers’ backcourt with a lot of Langston Galloway and Afflalo. Do you expect more of the same this time around?

MM: Galloway, yes, definitely. If Afflalo's post-up game is on and he can force Lillard or McCollum into foul trouble or just expending energy on the defensive end, he'll play big minutes. But if Grant is up for the challenge, he'll get minutes, too. If you see Vujacic at any point, it means this game was lost early.

BE: Thanks, but I'll hold out for Jimmer. Give us a prediction about the game, ideally including a [Knicks Announcer] Clyde Frazier-like aphorism or two.

MM: In the Knicks' last home game, a dreary loss to Miami, there were "Let's Go Heat!" chants. I expect a motivated New York to come out with energy and focus early, then for Portland's guards to get going, then for Anthony and Porzingis to make enough plays to keep it close. I think it comes down to the wire, a "tantalizing, mesmerizing, surprising, her-prising" affair, as Walt Frazier will inevitably refer to it.

BE: LOL. Yeah, last year's game in NY was unnecessarily close. So the moral is, get a "Let's go Blazers" chant going! Thanks so much Matthew!  Keep up the awesome work.