The New York Knicks (25-31) won a thriller in San Francisco on Thursday, defeating the Warriors 116-114. That unexpected victory brought their record to 1-3 on a daunting road trip which wraps up tonight with a visit to the Portland Trail Blazers (22-34).
The Blazers were much busier than the Knicks at this week’s trade deadline, exchanging CJ McCollum, Larry Nance, Jr., Norman Powell, Robert Covington, and Tony Snell for Josh Hart, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, Eric Bledsoe, Joe Ingles (out for season), Elijah Hughes, Didi Louzada, draft picks, cash, and prizes. Frankly, I’m not certain who will be available for the Blazers in their first of two meetings with the Knicks this season. But who cares about accuracy?
Portland has won two of their last 10, most recently defeating the Lakers, 107-105. They have the league’s 20th offense, 28th defense, and are 17th in pace. Despite the three losses, the Knicks have played pretty well on this Western jaunt (aside from an embarrassment in Denver). Does New York have enough juice left to crush these Blazers and sail home on a two game-win streak?
Count on it. Tip-off’s at 5 p.m., Lillard lovers.
In his fourth NBA campaign, Anfernee Simons (6’3”, 181 lbs) is really blossoming. With Damian Lillard out and McCollum and Powell gone, the 22-year old leads the teams in points per game (16.1) and assists (3.7). He is shooting 44% from the floor, 39% from deep, and has averaged 22.6 points, six assists, and 2.8 rebounds since becoming the starting point guard on January 3. The little dynamo is no great defender, though. Watch for him and Kemba Walker to run around and wave at each other, real friendly-like.
Nine years into his career, Ben McLemore (6’3”, 195 lbs) is averaging 8.9 points and 1.5 rebounds in about 18.3 minutes per game. The former Jayhawk is the Blazer most likely to be tonight’s “random dude who has a career night against the Knicks”. Defensively, he won’t put up much resistance if Evan Fournier intends on continuing his hot shooting of late (20.8 points per game this month, 45% from three).
Newly acquired Josh Hart (6’5”, 215 lbs) has averaged 13.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 41 games for the Pelicans this season. The Villanova man is a pretty good defender and will likely face off against the Knicks’ best defender, Quentin Grimes, with RJ Barrett still sidelined by a sprained ankle.
Duke alum Justise Winslow (6’6”, 222 lbs) has averaged 4.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in about 14 minutes per game. He leads his new team with two steals and one block per outing. In this seventh NBA campaign, Winslow has a reputation for solid defense and holds a 105 rating. Julius Randle has been hooping like a boss, averaging 27.2 points, 12 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in February. Winslow’s tough, but Julius should have the advantage.
Jusuf Nurkić (6’11”, 290 lbs) has played six seasons in Portland after starting out in Denver. In his eighth year, the 27-year old has averaged 14.6 points and 10.8 boards. Of late, Mitchell Robinson has been a house afire, averaging 13.5 rebounds, 11 points, and 2.8 blocks in his last four games. The Bosnian Bear can be a handful, so big Mitch might need to put extra cheese in the macaroni tonight.
Nothing is guaranteed in the NBA. A ragtag group of Trail Blazers beat LeBron James and Anthony Davis the other night, and that’s no insignificant achievement. Nevertheless, these Knickerbockers have gone to toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best recently and mostly held their own. They should win this affair, and even the flawless algorithm at ESPN.com says so, giving them a 56% shot. A blowout? Probably not. Prediction: Knicks by 10.
Moda Center. Saturday. 5 p.m. Weee, Knicks!