By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Trail Blazers | Madison Square Garden
When: Wednesday | 8:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (19-29): The Knicks look to rebound tonight after a dissappointing loss in Milwaukee on Monday. New York finished strong on its recent eight-game homestand, reeling off four straight wins before losing the finale to Miami on Saturday night before heading off for their first road conest in nearly three weeks. Now they have to get back on track, as Coach Mike Woodson says it's time for his team to start gaining ground before the season gets away. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith combined for 66 points in the loss to the Bucks, but it was defensive lapses that did the Knicks in.
Portland (34-14): One of the surprise teams of the first half of the season, the Blazers vaulted into the rank of Western Conference contenders after a scorching 22-4 start to the year. General Manager Neil Olshey bolstered one of the league's best starting fives by adding veteran pieces to a bench that was among the worst in the history of the NBA last season. The result has been the league's most efficient offense, led by All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. They rank 21st on defense, however, and have cooled off since their hot start, going 4-4 in their last eight.
The Numbers Game
J.R. Smith scored a season-high 30 points against the Bucks on Monday; it was just the latest in a series of positive steps since returning from offseason knee surgery. Over his last 12 games, Smith is averaging 17.1 points and shooting a scorching 48.5 percent from three.
Matchup to Watch
Raymond Felton vs. Damian Lillard
Felton faces one of his biggest challenges of the season tonight against second-year superstar-in-the-making, Damian Lillard. The sixth overall pick in last year's draft has emerged as an offensive dynamo and the leader of Portland's surge this season. The key to defending the Blazers' lead guard is to limit his looks from downtown, as he's shooting over 40 percent from three but only 43 percent from inside the three-point line. For Felton, it will be crucial to protect the ball and be smart with his decision-making in order to limit Portland's tranisition opportunities.
What to Look For
The Knicks had established a tendency to start fast during their recent four-game winning streak, something that would serve them well tonight in order to get the home crowd involved early against a tough opponent...Iman Shumpert returned to the lineup in Milwaukee after missing the previous two games with a shoulder injury. Kenyon Martin (ankle) did not dress, however, as Woodson's rotation juggling act continues...Portland ranks second in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage, so the Knicks will have to communicate on pick-and-rolls and stay glued to their men on the perimeter. Aldridge and Lillard form one of the most deadly pick-and-pop duos in the league, drawing attention while shooters space out along the three-point line.