Next up for R.J. Barrett and the Knicks are the Portland Trail Blazers, spearheaded by one of the top scorers in the NBA. 

The New York Knicks (8-9) intend to bounce back from Friday’s loss on Sunday when they battle the Portland Trail Blazers (8-6), winners of three of their last five.

Heading into game number three of a four-game west coast road trip, New York is 1-1. In their maiden challenge of this west coast tilt versus the Stephen Curry-led Warriors, R.J. Barrett put together a career performance, and six Knicks reached double-digits in scoring.

New York’s scoring-by-committee approach was nonexistent against the Kings. Only three Knicks—Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and Julius Randle—scored more than 10 points. Nerlens Noel and Reggie Bullock combined for 40 minutes of action and zero points. New York mustered just 94 points on abysmal accuracy: 22.7% of their three-balls and 38.4% of their field goals found the net. It was a terrible combined offensive showing for the Knicks.

To take down a perennial playoff contender and high-powered offense like the Trail Blazers, New York will need a scoring punch from their ancillary talents.

Here are some storylines to keep tabs on in what should be a compelling matchup.

Limit Portland’s Floor General

The Blazers are a well-coached team with a stout bench unit. Still, Damian Lillard carries the franchise’s torch, and he’s the player around which Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau must center his defensive gameplan. Lillard is torching the opposition for 28.1 points and 6.7 dimes in 2020–21.

Not only has Lillard staked his claim to the All-Star team, but he is also in consideration for the NBA’s best floor general. The former mid-major guard is leading all floor generals in scoring and ranks seventh in assists per game.

Containing a generational bucket-getter of Lillard’s ilk will take a focused team effort. Lillard is almost impossible to lock down one-on-one, especially in New York’s case, considering their shortage of excellent defenders on the perimeter. Because of this, expect the Knicks to attempt to trap Lillard in the pick-and-roll early and often. While easier said than done, New York should aspire to limit his shot attempts and force the Blazers’ role players to beat them.

If the Knicks can limit Lillard to under 30 points, New York will have a puncher’s chance at coming away with a win. Any more than that and the Knicks may be unable to keep pace with Portland on the scoring column, due to lackluster offensive attacks.

R.J. Barrett, the Long Range Marksman?

It’s an open secret that flagrant shooting woes plagued Barrett at the beginning of the season, namely from beyond the arc. Barrett nailed just three of his first 24 three-pointers of the season. This bred skepticism among Knicks faithful, who were rightfully concerned about whether Barrett could become a respectable perimeter threat.

Now, with a quarter of the season in the books, Barrett has established his egregious shooting was no more than a case of rust. The Knicks spent nearly a year without playing organized basketball, so it was inevitable that Barrett would stumble out of the gate, considering his inexperience and age. Barrett appeared to rush his three-point attempts in the season’s early going and neglected to set his feet to attain optimal balance. Both of these concerning aspects of his technique are mainly a thing of the past.

As the greats do, Barrett learned from his tribulations shooting the rock and is better off in the long-term for having gone through them. Experience is the best teacher, and Barrett’s improvement from downtown is a prime example of this proverb.

Just how lethal has Barrett been from behind the line as of late? In one word: incredibly. Over his last five outings, Barrett is 8-for-16 from three, which equates to a remarkable 50% clip. Not to mention he’s found the range on 32.6% of his threes in January, a massive improvement from his 12.5% mark in December.

With that said, Barrett’s three-point jumper remains a work in progress. He’s still shooting well below 30% on the season from deep and has yet to become comfortable hitting treys off the bounce. But as far as spot-up shooting is concerned, Barrett seems as confident as he ever has as a Knick.

Keep track of the number of threes that Barrett attempts in this one. Should he miss many of them, try to remember that he’s not yet old enough to drink alcohol (in the U.S., unlike his native Ontario). Gradual improvement is what matters, and Barrett undoubtedly checks that box thus far this season.

UPDATE: 8:07 a.m. ET.

Frank Ntilikina and Austin Rivers are available tonight, the team announced, while Reggie Bullock is out. Ntilikina has missed the past 13 games while Rivers missed the last two.

 

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