NEW YORK KNICKS (38-24)
at PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (29-34)
Tip-off: Thursday, 10:35 p.m. ET
Line: Portland -3.5, Total: 194.5
Both the injury-riddled Knicks and struggling Trail Blazers will be looking to avoid a three-game losing streak when the two square off in Portland on Thursday night. New York star SF Carmelo Anthony will not play in this game, as he flew back to Manhattan to undergo more tests on his sore knee.
The Knicks are coming off of two embarrassing performances to start their road trip, falling 92-63 at Golden State on Monday, and then losing 117-94 at Denver on Wednesday. The Blazers, on the other hand, have at least been competitive in their two most recent losses, losing by a total of seven points in defeats at New Orleans and home against Memphis. When the two teams met in New York on New Year's Day, the 9.5-point underdog Blazers shot 51% FG and won 105-100. The Knicks three best frontcourt players are all battling knee injuries with Anthony (45 points in last meeting with Portland) and PF Amar'e Stoudemire both out, and C Tyson Chandler questionable after leaving Wednesday's game with a knee contusion as a result of a collision with Denver's Corey Brewer. The Blazers also have some injury woes, but they expect that both SF Nicolas Batum (wrist) and PF LaMarcus Aldridge (migraines) will be starting on Thursday. Batum scored 26 points in the New Year's Day win at Madison Square Garden.
Can the Knicks win a big road game without their star player? For the answer, connect to NBA Best Bets for all the Expert picks throughout the entire 2012-13 season. All four experts remain red-hot in NBA Best Bets. StatFox Gary is 68% ATS (13-6) in March and 70% ATS (21-9) since Feb. 20, StatFox Brian is 62% ATS (13-8) since Feb. 28, StatFox Scott is 58% ATS (36-26) since Feb. 3 and StatFox Dave is 59% ATS (10-7) since March 2. Since February began, the experts are a collective 56% ATS (135-106). Scott is now 55% ATS (106-87-1) for the season, while Gary is 54% ATS (84-73-4). For NBA Totals, Gary is a perfect 7-0 since March 7, while Scott is 60% (12-8-1) since Feb. 22 to raise his season record to 56.1% (88-69-1) in Totals.
While it was horrible shooting (27.4% FG) that doomed the Knicks on Monday in Oakland, it was a lack of defense (117 points, 49% FG allowed) that sealed the team's fate in Wednesday's 23-point loss. It didn't help that the club's best interior defender, C Tyson Chandler, left the game for good in the first half. Not only does Chandler average 11.0 RPG and 1.1 BPG this season, but he also leads the NBA in FG Pct. with an impressive 64.5% clip. The Knicks were dreadful throughout the game, but they did get a promising performance from SG Iman Shumpert. In what was his best offensive performance since returning from a torn ACL, the shooting guard went 8-for-10 from the floor and 4-of-5 from three to tally 20 points in 33 minutes. SG J.R. Smith also had a solid game in Denver with 15 points (3-of-5 threes), eight assists and five rebounds. Considering he scored 28 points (10-of-22 FG) with 11 rebounds and five assists off the bench in the January loss to Portland, Smith will be counted on for the bulk of scoring on Thursday night. PG Raymond Felton didn't play in that game against his former team, but he has shot pretty well over his past five games (15.0 PPG on 52% FG) and will also need take more than the 13 shots he's attempted on this two-game road trip. He also needs to make better decisions running the point, as he has more turnovers (4.0 TOPG) than assists (3.8 APG) over these past five contests.
Like New York, Portland has also lost two straight games (SU and ATS). The first loss was by two in New Orleans on Sunday and the next was by five at home against the Grizzlies on Tuesday. Against Memphis, Portland did a good job hitting the glass as they outrebounded the Grizzlies by nine, and the club should also have a big advantage on the boards on Thursday with all the New York injuries. Despite the loss, PG Damian Lillard had one of his best games of his strong rookie campaign with 30 points (8-for-17 FG, 11-for-11 FT) and seven assists against Memphis. That marked his seventh straight game with 20+ points, where he's averaged 25.0 PPG over this stretch. Lillard also scored 21 points with six assists and five boards in the first game against the Knicks this season, and should be able to get to the basket with defensively-challenged Raymond Felton trying to guard him in this game. PF LaMarcus Aldridge was dominant inside against Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol on Tuesday, finishing the game with a nice stat line of 28 points (10-of-19 FG, 8-of-8 FT), 10 rebounds, four assists and four blocks. He pumped in 19 points and 14 rebounds in the New Year's Day win in New York. The problem in Tuesday's loss was that the Blazers got no help outside of Lillard and Aldridge. Nobody outside of those two was in double digits and they’ll need more production to continue improving as the season progresses. C J.J. Hickson just fell short of a fourth-straight double-double on Tuesday with eight points and nine rebounds, but he could have a big day inside with Chandler less than 100 percent. Even with Chandler on the court in the most recent meeting, Hickson was still able to post 18 points (9-of-11 FG) and nine rebounds in just 24 minutes of foul-plagued action.