After two close losses to playoff contenders, the Knicks will face a team that is much more their speed: the Trail Blazers.

The New York Knicks (28-40) host the Portland Trail Blazers (26-41) in a matchup between two lottery teams. The last time these two teams faced each other, Portland erased a 23-point third-quarter deficit and New York had 11 points in the fourth quarter, giving up the lead and game to the Blazers 112-103. New York enters the game with three wins in their last 10 games. 

The Knicks are, for a lack of better words, whatever. After a brief, three-game winning streak, New York lost to Memphis after a sizable lead in the third quarter and then lost a back-and-forth affair to the Brooklyn Nets with Kyrie Irving on the sidelines. Outside of the kids playing, this team continues to have the same issues with no escape in sight—the veterans are playing a pinch too much and Tom Thibodeau relies on them just enough to drive everyone crazy. At this stage, it is what it is. 

And let’s talk about the kids, briefly. Jericho Sims is getting a bit more trust from Thibodeau and despite a perfect performance, Sims looked good on the glass and, as always, his athleticism stands out. Immanuel Quickley has to get back in rhythm after two down performances against Brooklyn and Memphis. Both feel like solid rotation players for next season’s team, but their offseasons are key. Quickley should get more reps playing point guard, while Sims is someone who needs more offensive moves outside of dunks. If they can both improve, they fit the mold of cheap rotation players who could play in a multitude of spots on the 2022–23 Knicks. 

On the other side, the Blazers are a mess? On one hand, the Blazers do have cap space for next summer to help build around Damian Lillard, two first-round draft picks, both projected to be in the lottery, and Anfernee Simons has come along from another young player to an established guard who could get a sizable deal in restricted free agency this summer. The question mark stands because all of their recent moves suggest they will move Lillard and start over, but if they go the other way, moving picks and assets to further extend the Lillard era, I’m not a fan. 

With the Blazers dealing with injuries, they’re playing several unknown players. The likes of Drew Eubanks, Trendon Watford, and CJ Ellerby led Portland in their last game against the Atlanta Hawks—young players who would be fighting for roster spots, getting upward of 20 minutes per game. The hope is that someone pops; maybe Ellerby is a rotational wing, or Watford becomes a solid bench big. Maybe Keon Johnson, the asset from the Norman Powell trade, could emerge as a viable wing. Whatever happens, Portland is giving a few 21-year-olds shots to stick in the league, and there’s value in that.

What does that mean for the Knicks? It honestly should mean a blowout victory for New York. Julius Randle should be the best player on the floor when these two teams meet, RJ Barrett the second, but you never quite know what you’re going to get with the Knicks, which makes every game a bit of an adventure. 

What to Watch

  • Deuce McBride: I want to see Deuce McBride get big minutes here. The Knicks severely lack a point guard and I think McBride’s play, in limited minutes, has been great. He’s smart with the ball in his hands, active in getting in the paint, and showed in the G League that he is a good shooter. Add his defensive prowess and you have someone who should get more minutes to close out the year.
  • RJ Barrett: Barrett had a good first half against Memphis and Brooklyn before evening out in the second half, mostly due to poor shot selection. With a Blazers team down several good players, I want to see another strong RJ Barrett performance where he scores efficiently on one end and defends well on the other. CJ Ellerby and Josh Hart aren’t world-beaters, but both have shown to have their spots and strong points playing together. Barrett taking one of the two effectively out of the game would be an excellent look moving into the final phase of the season.
  • Handling Business?: The Knicks should win this one. They should honestly win this game by about 15 or so. HOWEVER, the proper way to handle business today is to let the Blazers win this game to move closer to the eighth spot in the lottery. Currently, New York is sandwiched between Portland and, well, Portland (pick originally owned by New Orleans) on Tankathon and a win (loss) would go a great way towards landing a top player in the draft.


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