By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Trail Blazers | Moda Center
When: Monday | 10:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (3-9): Tonight marks the beginning of a three-game swing through the Western Conference that will take the Knicks to L.A. on Wednesday to face the Clippers and then to Denver on Friday. Like last year, when they made their five-game western trip without Tyson Chandler, New York will be playing shorthanded due to injury. Chandler is out again, and Raymond Felton is listed as questionable with a pinched nerve in his left hip. Andrea Bargnani (17 points, 6 rebounds per game since Chandler's injury) has assumed the starting center spot, but the team as a whole has struggled to get stops without Chandler, the defensive anchor.
Portland (12-2): As recently as this offseason, the Blazers were facing identity questions. Years of toiling in NBA purgatory (not good enough to be a contender, not bad enough to pick at the top of the draft) presented General Manager Neil Olshey with two options: trade All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge for a rebuilding package or surround him and Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard with playoff-level role players. Now, 14 games into Olshey's (and Lillard's) second season, the team is humming along, just a half game behind the San Antonio Spurs for best record in the Western Conference. What was the NBA's worst bench in the league last year now features veteran scorers like Mo williams and Dorrell Wright, and former top-5 pick Thomas Robinson, who has found his niche in Portland.
The Numbers Game
Amar'e Stoudemire had a breakout performance against Washington on Saturday night, showing explosion and touch around the hoop on his way to 12 points (on 5-of-5 shooting).
Matchup to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. Damian Lillard
As the Knicks have worked to find continuity amidst changing lineups, Shumpert has quietly put together a solid season. He's done a good job keeping the ball moving and knocking down shots when he gets the opportunity. His field goal percentage is up to 46 percent and he's remained a dangerous 3-point shooter. More importantly, his versatility has shone through in the wake of Felton's injury, as he's been able to handle the ball and guard opposing point guards, when necessary. Expect to see Mike Woodson use Shump on Lillard, the second-year guard who can score in bunches. Lillard has improved his 3-point stroke this season, shooting nearly 40 percent on over seven attempts per game.
What to Look For
The Knicks all talk about giving more consistent effort on the defensive end as the key to turning the season around. Saturday against the Wizards, they were unable to keep John Wall out of the lane, and that opened things up for Bradley Beal and the rest of the Washington attack. Containing Lillard will be crucial to winning in Portland. Aldridge is known for his turnaround jumper, something Kenyon Martin and Bargnani will surely be aware of from the scouting report. Wesley Matthews has also been having a career year, shooting over 50 percent from three. Knicks wings will have to be extra careful to defend the perimeter.
UPDATE: After an on-court altercation against the Warriors, the NBA has announced some punishments, including one that will impact tonight's game.
Mo Williams out for tonight's game against the #Knicks— Jonah Ballow (@jonahballow) November 25, 2013