The New York Giants couldn’t come through with a win on Thanksgiving Day so hopefully the Knicks can give us something to enjoy while we finish off our Thanksgiving Day leftovers. They’ll look to get back over .500 tonight against the 10-8 Portland Trail Blazers at home.
Anfernee Simon (6’3”, 181 lb.), the fifth year pro, has started in every game he’s been available in this year and he’ll do the same tonight. The young guard was expected and relied on to replace CJ McCollum after he was traded and he has done just that. Simons is currently averaging 22.8PPG and 4.2APG on 41.9% from the field and 37.1% from 3. With Damian Lillard ruled out for tonight’s contest, Simons will have the ball in his hands early and often.
He’ll be facing up against Jalen Brunson, who is coming off of his best performance as a Knick. In Monday’s thrilling victory over the Thunder, Brunson dropped 34 points (ties his regular season career high) and 9 assists. And he did so with unbelievable efficiency going 14/20 from the field and 13/14 from 2. Brunson has gotten better as the season has gone on and he’ll need to have another big night to counter Simons.
Joining the aforementioned Simon in the backcourt will be Josh Hart (6’5”, 215 lb.). The former Villanova Wildcat is going through a down year in terms of scoring, but is still a solid piece of what can be a good Trail Blazers team. His 9.6PPG is his lowest since the 2020-21 season but his averages of 4.3APG, 8.1RPG and 1.4SPG are all career-highs and showcase just how versatile he is for this team.
The shooting guard position, which has already seen three different starters this season, will be occupied by Quentin Grimes. Averaging just 3.9PPG, 1.6RPG, and 1.4APG, it’s easy to hand this matchup to Hart and the Trail Blazers but Grimes is playing the best basketball the young season and has looked really good doing so. Ever since his insertion in to the starting lineup, the perimeter defense has looked a bit better and he’s shown an improved level of playmaking and decision making that has lead to an increase in ball movement. As he continues to get his legs under him, the hope is that he can improve on his abysmal 22.2% shooting from downtown.
Justice Winslow (6’6”, 222 lb.), the starting small forward for Portland, has gone from a highly touted prospect to an injury-riddled veteran to a key rotational piece. And the crazy thing is, he’s still only 26. Much like Hart, his averages of 6.9PPG, 4.4RPG, 3.6APG and 1.2SPG do not wow you. But also much like Hart, he does a little bit of everything on both sides of the ball and has been crucial in surrounding Lillard with some much needed win athleticism and defense.
He’ll be going up against fellow Duke alumni, RJ Barrett, who finally broke out of his atrocious offensive slump with a 25 point performance on Monday. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s fully recovered from whatever was holding him back and can build off of his strong performance against the Thunder or if he’ll go back to struggling again.
Jerami Grant (6’8”, 210 lb.), brother of former Knick draft pick Jerian Grant, has been a pretty solid and consistent scorer ever since leaving Denver and he’s done more of the same again this year in Portland. He’s currently averaging 19.7PPG on an efficient 47.4% from the field and a ridiculous 48.4% from 3 on a whopping 5.5 attempts per game. With Lillard out, Grant, along with Simons, will be relied on to carry the load for the offense so the Knicks must be prepared.
Julius Randle will get the start obviously and will go up against Grant in what should be a fun and also important matchup. Randle is averaging 20.8PPG and 8.8RPG on an efficient 46.7% from the field and 33.3% from 3. He was able to bounce back from a disappointing nine point performance against the Suns with a solid 25-point game against the Thunder so hopefully he can ride the hot hand and give us a reason to talk more about his play than his “demeanor” and “energy”.
Starting at center for Portland will be the long time Trail Blazer, Jusuf Nurkic (6’11”, 290 lb.). He’s closer to the traditional big man that Thibodeau likes to deploy so stylistically, this may be a bit of relief for the coach and Knicks fans but he is having yet another solid season with averaged of 14.1PPG and 9.9RPG on 52.6% from the field an a very good 50% from 3 on 1.3 attempts per game.
With Mitchell Robinson having left the Thunder game with a knee injury, it should be Isaiah Hartenstein getting the start once again. Hartenstein seems to be a point of contention for Knicks fans as there is a crowd of people believing that he is being misused while there is also a crowd of people thinking that the first year Knick is just not that good. I, for one, believe it’s the former because there is proof that he’s been a very solid, if not great, back up center in the league. Hopefully with some time off after the long west coast trip, he can flash some flashes of greatness and win over some more fans.
Despite just being two games over .500, Portland is a very capable and at times dangerous team that has already beaten the Suns (twice), the Heat (twice), and the Nuggets. But they are also a team that, especially with the injury to Lillard, can be beaten. With how shaky the Knicks defense has been, Simon and Grant, who have been dangerous from downtown, could have big games. With that being the case, it is imperative that the Knicks make sure that they stop the “other guys” to make sure that there isn’t a repeat performance of their last home game, which was the disastrous loss against the Thunder. The Knicks, fresh off of a feel good win against the Thunder and some nice rest, should have a bit of a boost being at home and will eek out a close 115-110 win. Randle and Brunson will be deadly once again and the game, much like it so often has this season, will come down to how effective and efficient Barrett can be.