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Trail Blazers Welcome Knicks Without Anthony

03/14/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    On Thursday, the Trail Blazers (29-34) host the New York Knicks (38-24). Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 and the game will be televised nationally on TNT. The game can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM. Carmelo Anthony is not with the Knicks and will not play as he will have fluid in his knee drained and be evaluated further. Tonight's game is also 80s night at the Rose Garden.

        •    First of all, watch this. If you click on the link you'll certainly be reminded of the great night that it was when the Trail Blazers got one of their best wins in Madison Square Garden. It was a total team effort from the Trail Blazers against a two-headed attack by the Knicks with Carmelo Anthony scoring 45 points and J.R. Smith pitching in 28 off the bench. Nicolas Batum led the way with 26 points, scoring six threes and Damian Lillard scored 21 points and dished six assists. LaMarcus Aldridge's double-double of 19 points and 14 rebounds and JJ Hickson's 18 points and nine rebounds on nine of 11 shooting helped the Trail Blazers get buckets on the interior. The New Year's eve game was Amar'e Stoudemire's debut but Stoudemire is out for six to eight weeks after having a procedure on his knee. Anthony, as stated above, is out as he will go back to New York to have his knee drained after exiting early from his return to Denver last night. Tyson Chandler also left the game early for the Knicks with a knee injury but the Knicks list him as probable for Thursday's game. So, with the personnel being up in the air, things will be a little different as far as what to expect from the Knicks. Anthony's post-ups will no longer be a concern and what the Trail Blazers will have to contend with is not allowing J.R. Smith to get into an early rhythm and stopping Raymond Felton from getting dribble penetration to open things up for the New York three-point shooters. They are no longer hitting their threes like they were in the first two months of the season, when they were leading the NBA in attempts and converting them at 38.8 percent clip and were scoring at an elite rate of 109.4 points per 100 possessions. After their 21-9 start to the season, they have since gone 17-15, but despite their struggles and the fact they are shorthanded, the Trail Blazers must take care of their own business.
      
     •    Obviously, there is a match-up everybody will be watching and that will be the match-up between the most recent point guard of Trail Blazers past in Raymond Felton, and the present and future in Damian Lillard. While both of the players will not likely acknowledge the match-up as anything outside of the context of the current game, it will mean something to those who are watching. Damian Lillard, by the eye test and statistically is already better than Felton has been in his career but the Trail Blazers will need Lillard or whomever is guarding Felton to contain him. Felton was injured when the Trail Blazers made their visit to MSG and you could see the effect it had on the offense, as nobody besides Anthony and Smith could get anything going and nobody else was involved. Felton, for all of his shortcomings last year, is still a key for the Knicks to play good basketball. Without Carmelo, it will be even more important for the Trail Blazers to try and contain Felton's penetration and not allow it to create open looks for New York shooters. Also, it's not a shocker that as Felton's assist percentage (the amount of teammates field goals he assists on while he is on the court) has gone from 30.5 percent down to 25.5 percent, that the Knicks offense has slipped from 109.2 points per 100 possessions to 105.4. While still above average, their offense is not as amazing as it once was. Lillard, who has scored 20 points or more over the last seven games, will undoubtedly get his numbers against the Knicks, whose defense has slipped from elite earlier in the season to below league average (and that goes double if Chandler doesn't play). The biggest task for Lillard and the Trail Blazers will be slowing down Felton, as him getting into the teeth of the defense and the Knicks being able to knock down open looks, is their most likely option to steal a game at the Rose Garden.
      
     •    As stopping the Knicks penetration will be a key, having a fast and quality start will be just as important. The Knicks are coming to the Rose Garden shorthanded. The Trail Blazers have done a good job in their last two home games against teams that are arriving shorthanded (Timberwolves, Bobcats). The Knicks, despite their record, do not look like a unit that will come in and win after two blowout losses on the road. The dangerous part from the Trail Blazers will be getting into that state of thinking. Players and coaches were vocal before and after their most recent games against teams with bad records, that they were solely focused on their business. Despite the fact that the Knicks come in with a better record and sit atop their division, they are entering the Rose Garden embattled. The Trail Blazers, with Nicolas Batum's on-going wrist troubles and Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge and Meyers Leonard all playing through sprained ankles, are not at full strength either. But, if the players expected to go tomorrow do play, there is no reason they shouldn't take care of business against a wounded opponent. But, there is no such thing in the NBA, and that's why the Trail Blazers cannot afford to treat them as such.

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