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Trail Blazers Start New Year In New York

12/31/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    On New Years Day, the Trail Blazers (15-14) will take on the New York Knicks (21-9) under the bright lights of the "World's Most Famous Arena." The Trail Blazers will be without Meyers Leonard who has stayed home with a sprained ankle and Wesley Matthews' hip injury continues to be an unknown given the injury and Matthews' desire to play, even when injured. Amar'e Stoudemire will be making his debut while Carmelo Anthony could miss the game with a hyperextended left knee. The game begins at 4:30 PM and will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

    Over a month ago, the Trail Blazers (15-14) started their last road trip. That seven-game road trip began across the bridge in Brooklyn, from where they will begin their current one and although the locals are almost the same, the team is much different than it was then. Before then, Terry Stotts was employing a short rotation, but as the road trip went along, Stotts gave his other, younger bench players a chance. One of the positives of that road trip that the Trail Blazers went 2-5 on was the fact some of their young players built some confidence.  Wiil Barton had a career-high in scoring as did Meyers Leonard and Luke Babbitt triggered the most drastic comebacks in the NBA in over 10 years.

    Then, the Trail Blazers came home and were decimated by injuries upon arrival, or so it seemed. The friendly, home-heavy schedule worked in the Trail Blazers favor and Portland's reserves stepped up. Batum missed only one game and Matthews has played in only one full game despite trying to play in two others. In Matthews's stead, it has been Victor Claver whom Terry Stotts has turned to, to fill his spot in the starting line-up. The results have been good as the team is 4-2 with Claver in the starting line-up and in two of the games in December Matthews started, he played 3 and 9 minutes and left due to injury. Claver was inserted for Matthews in both of those games and the Trail Blazers won both of those as well. Sean Highkin of Portland Roundball Society has been impressed so much by the starting line-up with Claver he wrote that the Trail Blazers should stick with it even when Matthews returns, using him as a sixth-man scorer similar to the way the Thunder start Thabo Sefolosha and bring Kevin Martin (formerly James Harden) off the bench in that role.  Matthews' offense could give a major kick start to the scoring woes of their bench units while Claver's relative lack of scoring doesn't take away from the starting five almost at all while his length and mobility helps improve the defense.

        •    Even though the Knicks haven't been a contending team for much of the last 12 years or so (they are certainly a contender this year), Madison Square Garden still holds a major place in basketball lore. Even when the Knicks weren't good, the great players would put on a show at MSG. This year, Kyrie Irving was the latest star to make his mark at the Garden dropping 41 points. This game is Damian Lillard's first trip to the historic arena. Lillard has put the league on notice and the Knicks' broadcasts have even been hyping Lillard's visit to MSG for over a week. Lillard will certainly say that the location doesn't mean anything to him but to everybody watching and basketball fans everywhere, it will mean a great deal. A player's first game at MSG, especially a player who has started his career the way Lillard has, will certainly be the must-watch game of the night on Tuesday in the NBA. Lillard said that the team is more confident during this road trip but something else that is different about this road trip is the hype surrounding Lillard has only gotten bigger.
        
    •    Nicolas Batum is continuing to find a balance. Terry Stotts spoke of how he wants Batum to continue to balance his facilitating with his scoring. Batum notched another high assist total, getting eight on Saturday night but he also scored 22 points and made big shots when the Trail Blazers needed it.  Coach Stotts preaches "flow" in the offense and Batum is the ultimate flow player. The player-coach relationship between Stotts and Batum has been a fruitful one. Stotts often leans on Batum to hold together bench units without Aldridge or Lillard on the floor. With teams keying in on Lillard even more, having a second playmaker on the floor makes teams pay. Wesley Matthews' scoring has been missed but Batum has helped make up for that by getting more teammates involved while also scoring, rebounding and playing great defense.
        
    •    The Knicks have some injury troubles right now. Their starting point guard, Raymond Felton, who has had moments good and bad for them is out after breaking his right pinky. Carmelo Anthony has dealt with injuries a lot as of late and is listed as questionable while Tyson Chandler is probable with a sprained right ankle for Tuesday's game. The Knicks have also been without reserve big man Rasheed Wallace for a while and he won't play either. The Knicks are a deep team and with players like J.R. Smith stepping up, they are still a tough team. The injuries seemed like it came back to bite them in their loss at Sacramento. Portland will be without their primary back-up center in Leonard and will turn to Jared Jeffries to take over that role (Jeffries was with the Knicks last year). However, one thing that keeps the Knicks in every game, whether they have their stars or not, is the three-point shot. Nobody shoots and makes more threes in the NBA than the Knicks. Portland must rotate well and try and run the New York shooters off the line and force them to take it to the rim. Portland's interior defense has not been a calling card by any means, but if you can take away the Knicks biggest offensive weapon, it will certainly help Portland's chances.

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