Trade deadlines, falling skies, and lights in tunnels thicken this week's plot

Wednesday, March 14th -- VS Portland

Friday, March 16th -- VS Indiana

Saturday, March 17th -- @ Indiana

I'm writing this at the same general time the Knicks play the Bulls Monday night, so they will not be included in the assessment of this week's slate of games. I'm going to try real hard not to make this a habit, particularly during brilliant, inspired stretches of stress-free basketball such as this one. The weather has grown tired of mirroring the success of the basketball season for Knicks fans, apparently, as the literal Christmas gifts of Knicks basketball and a Knicks win have given way to gorgeous skies and embarrassing, confounding play. Of course, it's entirely possible the Knicks will commence beating the Bulls down ten minutes from now, but for the sake of full-assing rather than its alternatives half- and no-assing, I'm not going to include this Chicago game in any way (although it seems to represent the awful schedule the Knicks have had lately pretty well).

Update: The Knicks lost painfully by getting dominated on the offensive boards!

Jump for thoughts on the impending Knicks tilt against Portland, as well as thoughts on this week's home-and-home against one of the more fundamentally contrasting teams from the Knicks, and one that is as likely to make a major trade prior to Friday as any, the Indiana Pacers.

Portland Trailblazers

These fellows could also make a trade or two by the deadline. If you go by rumors, the Blazers have offered every player on their roster to every team in the NBA, including themselves. However, because the Knicks play them relatively early in the week, Wednesday, any players acquired in a trade would be unlikely to appear in uniform tomorrow. However, this is putting the cart before the horse.

The Blazers have some old Knicks on their team, both literally and figuratively (hello, Marcus and Kurt!), but their contingent of young players is puzzling. Armon and Chris Johnson? Craig and Nolan Smith? Take it easy, Portland; we get it.

As constructed, Portland is an extremely average team.

Strengths

- Good offense (8th)

- Pretty good defense (13th)

- Average rebounding (17th)

- Good at taking care of the ball (7th)

- Average pace (13th)

In fact, Portland is so average, its record is 20-21, indicating an extreme level of average, which is grammatically impossible. Portland gets much of its offense from LaMarcus Aldridge, who has become one of the sport's best big men. Crawford is having basically the same season he did last year, Felton is celebrating the worst season of his career, Wallace has come back to Earth from his production in Portland last season, Thomas and Camby are each a year older, and Nicolas Batum is still a mystery. This feels like it should have already turned into a

Weaknesses

section. Aside from Aldridge, the Blazers don't impress me at all. I don't know whether it means anything directly, but Portland must lead the league in journeymen at this point. I'm not talking about just dudes coming over from other teams, I'm talking about the fact that Marcus Camby is on his fifth NBA team, as is Crawford, while Kurt Thomas is on his ninth! But anyways:

- Portland's most major disadvantage going into this game is their deplorable road record of 6-14, which also happens to match Toronto's. Look, the Knicks are hardly a .500 team at the Garden, which is just as bad, but the Blazers simply don't show up to play on the road very often, and the Knicks need to look to pounce.

- Like I mentioned earlier, Portland could be moving around some personnel in the near future. I didn't mention, however, that their coach Nate McMillan has found himself closer than preferred to the hot seat himself. In concert with all the potential line-up shake-ups that have been brought-up because they won't wake-up, the team's make-up could be straight-up messed-up or they might even break-up.

- Potentially, however, the Blazers could pull a complete fake-out and take-out the Knicks, or even break-out and -- Oh forget it.

Indiana Pacers

Indiana is a lot like a younger version of the Blazers, or maybe even like a different version of Philadelphia's team, but the only certain thing about them is that they lack a true star. In this respect, Indiana is sort of the anti-Knicks, taking extra care not to allow players of questionable character such as perhaps J.R. Smith or even Baron Davis near their vicinity. Instead, the Pacers are comprised of all-world energy guys like Tyler Hansbrough and Lou Amundson, as well as cerebral vanilla players like George Hill, David West and Roy Hibbert, whose names even sound boring as shit. But hey, almost everyone on the team can hit a jumper, and yet very few can consider themselves truly talented passers.

Accordingly, the Pacers have been rumored to be in the market for either that "true superstar" or a "true point guard," perhaps even both. They have a stupid amount of depth, talented and valuable young players like Darren Collison and Paul George, and a big contract in the form of Danny Granger. If you take a gander up and down its roster, you could make the case that Indiana is positioned better for long-term success than any small market team not including Oklahoma City. Take a look at their roster and imagine Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo or Indianan Eric Gordon in the mix. Alright, now stop because that's weird! Ew!

Strengths

- Depth and health. I'm going to include both of these in the same bullet point because they both breed chemistry and consistency, and Indiana crushes both. Dahntay Jones started two games this season, but other than that, Collison-George-Granger-West-Hibbert has been the starting line-up every night, and I think there's something to be said for that (The Knicks have started twelve different players this season).

- Offensive rebounding. Indiana ranks seventh in the NBA in o-boards. For some reason, I feel like this is relevant.

- Defense. Indiana is a middle-of-the-pack offensive team, but they're defensively in the top third of the NBA.

- Drawing fowls. Indiana is the top team in the Eastern Conference at getting to the line, and they shoot it at the third highest percentage once they're there.

Weaknesses

- Good news! Because they're such a great free throw team, and because they're a middle of the pack offensive team in spite of that foul-drawing proliferation, that can only mean one thing: The Pacers stink like shit at hitting shots! Indiana's team field goal percentage is right around where Milwaukee's is; in the bottom five of the NBA. Also like Milwaukee, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for it: they do not have a guy who can consistently set the table. So, while Charlotte and Sacramento have really terrible teams, Indiana simply can't set its riches of offensive weapons up effectively enough. Collison leads their team with around five helpers a game, but second place is Paul George with around two.

- For this reason, defensive rotations will be paramount, as will drawing charges on the many Pacers who dive to the rack.

- For those reasons, get well soon Jared!

- Remember when I said the Pacers get to the line a lot? They also hack, sending opponents to the line about 25 times a game. This should greatly benefit the Knicks, who look like they'll have a pissed off Carmelo Anthony, an un-gloved Tyson Chandler, an increasingly spry Amar'e Stoudemire, and most importantly, a new-found zeal for going to the rim. Knicks starters alone attempted 29 free throws against Chicago, so someone call them and tell them Indiana wants some too.

This week is wonderful in that the Knicks could win every game. The week is also horrible, in that the Knicks can win every game. It's easy enough to chalk up losses at San Antonio, at Dallas, and at Chicago to inferior coaching, talent, whatever. However, this week the Knicks are slated to play a bad road team in the Garden, and two games against a team close enough in the standings to consider each game of the utmost importance. At some point, these Knicks have to put it together.

The difference between 18-27 and 21-24 is the season. Who isn't scared?

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