Riding high off of a win in L.A. which snapped an eight-game losing streak, the Knicks continue their road trip with a tough matchup against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Fresh off a hot start (read: one game win streak) to 2019, the New York Knicks (10-29) continue their tour of the Western Conference and now face off against the Portland Trail Blazers (23-17).
These two teams couldn’t be in more opposite stages in their first matchup of the season. New York is fighting to win just a single game, having gone 2-8 in their last 10, while Portland is scratching and clawing for a playoff spot in the highly competitive Western Conference.
For New York, this game is more of a litmus test to see how certain players are doing at this point in the season. And for Portland, this is a must-win game against a team that is currently giving up nearly 115 points per game to their opponents.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum continue to lead the Trail Blazers to victories. The duo is ranked as the third-best two-man lineup in the NBA, per NBA Stats. The two average a combined 76 points, 14 assists, and nearly seven threes a game. New York will have its hands full attempting to contain that kind of offensive firepower.
New York’s chances of winning this game are slim, but not non-existent. Yes, the Knicks are one of the worst defenses in the league, but the Trail Blazers are no defensive stalwarts, either. The Trail Blazers are currently ranked the 15th best/worst defense in the league. The Knicks’ advantage lies in their size and versatility of their guards—Emmanuel Mudiay being 6’5″, and Tim Hardaway Jr. being 6’6″. If Mudiay and Hardaway Jr. can get off to a hot start against the smaller guards in Lillard and McCollum, their chances of winning this game increase.
Here are a few things to note before tonight’s game.
Enes Kanter Receiving Trade Interest and the Return of Mitchell Robinson
Per Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic, New York has begun to receive trade interest in Enes Kanter. No deal is imminent, however. What this means is that Kanter’s frustration with his lack of playing time has become increasingly apparent to the rest of the league. Kanter is among the league’s premier low-post offensive scorers, and many teams could use his skills.
The emergence of Mitchell Robinson earlier this season is what finally pushed Kanter to the bench. Although Robinson isn’t nearly as refined as Kanter offensively, Robinson already possesses more defensive versatility, which David Fizdale values greatly.
Since Robinson’s injury, which has held him out since December 12th, 2018, the Knicks have relied on Noah Vonleh and Luke Kornet to fill his minutes. Kanter, meanwhile, has received minutes based on matchups. Mitchell Robinson has stumbled from returning, and how Fizdale spreads minutes between Vonleh, Kornet, Kanter, and Robinson will be a challenge when the rookie center is back in action.
Kanter will most likely face off against Jusuf Nurkic of the Trail Blazers, who possesses size and rebounding abilities similar to those of Kanter himself. Against the Lakers, Kanter was able to take advantage of their lack of an interior defender to grab offensive rebounds and score. While it’s entirely possible he’ll have another great game, he’ll certainly have a much tougher time doing that against Nurkic.
Kevin Knox’s Growth
The month of December was one to remember for Kevin Knox, who won the NBA’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award. Knox averaged 17.1 points and 6.0 rebounds on 40.3 percent shooting from the field, 38.4 percent from three, and 64 percent from the charity stripe in the past month, and there’s no plan for the 19-year-old to slow down.
Most importantly for Knox, however, is that he has been receiving consistent minutes—averaging nearly 35 minutes per game in the month of December. Gifted with this playing time, Knox has proven that he can become a solid, if not go-to, scorer for these young Knicks.
Knox has gotten better at driving to the rim, where he is now hitting 51.9 percent of his shots. While Fizdale has pushed Knox to be more aggressive offensively, the rook still has improvements to make defensively. Facing off against Evan Turner and Trail Blazers, Knox should use his size and scoring versatility to put up another great game.