The New York Knicks will march into the Moda Center tonight to take on the Portland Trail Blazers.
Both teams are in need of a win. For the Knicks, they have the opportunity to overtake the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 5 seed in the NBA Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Blazers have no margin for error in hopes of climbing from No. 13 to No. 10 in the Western Conference.
Portland owns a 17-15 home record on the year, as they sit at 31-37 overall. Additionally, they sport a 21-20 record against Western Conference opponents. The problem is, that positive record in the West means they have a 10-17 record against competitors out East.
However, New York is not responsible for any of those 17 losses, as Damian Lillard and company have the upper hand in the season series after a 132-129 overtime victory at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 25, 2022. They look to sweep the season series against a Knicks team that is 21-14 on the road and 12-13 against the West.
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau led his troops to a nine-game winning streak that came to an end on March 7 against the Charlotte Hornets. From that point forward, the Knicks dropped three-straight games — all by double figures — before re-entering the win column in their most recent game against the LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers.
Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups looks to ignite a new losing streak for the Knicks, while inching closer to usurping the Utah Jazz in the standings.
Let’s examine the keys to the game.
Blazers vs. Knicks — Tuesday, March 14, 7:00 p.m. PT
How to Watch: Bally Sports Plus, MSG, NBA League Pass
Blazers Injuries: Damian Lillard (game time decision), Jerami Grant (game time decision), Justise Winslow (out), Ibou Badji (out), John Butler Jr. (out, G League two-way)
Knicks Injuries: Jalen Brunson (game time decision - doubtful)
SBN Affiliate: Posting and Toasting
What to Watch For:
- Denuclearize Julius Randle: Since the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline, Julius Randle has been earning every cent of his contract dollars. He’s had six games with 30 or more points in that selfsame 14-game span, averaging 27.6 points per game on 37 percent shooting from deep. He’s attempting an unprecedented 10.4 three-pointers per game during that stretch. It will be incumbent upon coach Billups to contain the weapon of mass destruction that coach Thibodeau has in his arsenal, and early. Randle loves to trail on offense and stop on a dime for pull-up three-pointers, particularly on the wing. He also loves to be aggressive going downhill. While he possesses a certain level of post skills as a bonafide 2023 NBA All-Star caliber hooper, he doesn’t get the lion share of his points in that area. Jalen Brunson’s availability should determine how to defend Randle and the Knicks. In the event that Brunson does not take the floor, running a 2-3 zone defense where every defender shades their man right would do a great job at throwing off Randle. Picking him up once he crosses half court and then springing into that zone figures to take away his license to shoot and shepherd him where the Blazers want him to go.
- Take Away the Left Side of the Floor: As previously noted, that 2-3 zone geared right has many perks. For one, New York’s top three scorers — Randle, Brunson and RJ Barrett — are all left handed. While they are professional NBA players who must be respected, Randle and Barrett particularly have shown that when their left hand is taken away, they can be slowed down. For the other two Knicks that favor their right hand, baiting them to go to their strong side could lead them into a crowded three-man front down low. For one reason or another, coach Billups abandoned a zone that was peppered into his repertoire early in the season — a catalyst for a surprise ascension to the No. 1 seed in the West inside of 20 games played. Yes, NBA coaches are sophisticated enough to adjust. However, especially in the case of Brunson, his patience and IQ with the rock leads him to curl off of screens, keep defenders on his hip and rise up from the elbow, where he is absolute money from. A traditional man defense will mean that on the screen-and-roll with Randle, Mitchell Robinson or Isaiah Hartenstein, Brunson will have a field day beating Jusuf Nurkic to the rim or toying with a salivating Drew Eubanks around the midrange. A zone stands a decent chance at thwarting Brunson’s potency in that area, despite every offense having a hole in war. All of this is contingent upon the All-Star snub’s availability.
- Be Committed to Controlling the Boards: The Knicks are No. 3 in the NBA, grabbing 47.0 rebounds per game. They are No. 2 in offensive rebounds, pulling in 12.8 second-chance opportunities per night. On the other hand, the Blazers are No. 26 in the NBA in rebounding, securing 41.2 missed shots per game. New York has size and agility up front. Portland does not. Boxing out will be paramount. Robinson, Hartenstein and Jericho Sims are all workhorses who put their hardhat on around the restricted area. If they and Randle are allowed to outmuscle Portland’s interior and get their second jumps going, it will be lights out for Portland, and potentially for the season as well.
What Others Are Saying:
- Mo Dakhil of Bleacher Report justified whether or not the Knicks are a legitimate title contender in 2023, highlighting Immanuel Quickley as a key contributor, saying:
“The emergence of Immanuel Quickley could also help make the Knicks a contender.
Quickley comes in off the bench and provides a boost of energy for the Knicks. He’s averaging a career-high 13.5 points in 28.4 minutes per game and is among the favorites to win Sixth Man of the Year, according to FanDuel Sportsbook,” Dakhil pointed out.
“Quickley’s change-of-speed ability has put defenses on its heels. He completely torched the Boston Celtics in a recent double-overtime win where he dropped 16 points in the fourth quarter and the two overtime frames.”
- Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian could not resist to indirectly interject with his displeasure of the Blazers’ performance in their latest loss to a depleted New Orleans Pelicans team, saying:
“At this point, it’s fair to ask whether the Portland Trail Blazerseven want to reach the postseason?
Their performance Sunday during a 127-110 loss at the New Orleans Pelicans, when the Blazers trailed by as many as 39 points, more closely resembled that of a team ready to book offseason trips to a tropical resort rather than that of a squad grinding to reach the play-in round in hopes of reaching the playoffs,” Fentress lamented.
“The Blazers had every incentive to play Sunday as if it were a playoff game. The fallout from the loss left the Blazers in 13th place in the Western Conference, two games behind New Orleans and three other teams who are all tied for ninth. The Pelicans were without two All-Stars and had played Saturday night. Yet it was the Blazers who looked unrested and uninterested, as if they didn’t need the victory when they very much did.”