Starting Five: Trail Blazers at New York Knicks, 4:30 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
Happy New Year, dear readers. The Rose Bowl Parade is muted on my television right now, so it is my first resolution of the year to work in non sequiturs like marching band, Clydesdale, Al Roker or even a put a bird on that float! into this blog. And, really I just did. So, boom. I’m already better in 2013.
As far as the Trail Blazers’ resolutions. For the sake of all that’s good in this world and an eighth playoff seed, let’s hope that the team resolves to win more games on the road. This brings us to our Question of the Day…
The Blazers have lost three straight roadies, their last win coming in Charlotte on Dec. 3. So, what was the team’s longest road winning streak of 2011-2012?
Think about that one for a minute. The answer will be below your new Starting Five. Read along, enjoy and … marching band.
1.Blazers could use a good Jeffries’ homecoming
We’re going with Jared Jeffries in a Knickerbocker uniform for the photo up top. Jeffries knows Madison Square Garden better than any Blazer teammate as he has spent about 4 1/2 seasons off and on in New York during his 11-year NBA career.
Jeffries’ 2011-2012 season in New York can be divided into two distinct times, Linsanity and Reality. When injuries decked the NY lineup last February, not only did Jeremy Lin get a shot – we all know what followed – but Jeffries started four games, his only starts of the season (Feb. 6-Feb. 11), playing more than 25 minutes and averaging 8.5 points and 6.75 rebounds. Jeffries rode shot gun on his friend’s meteoric rise to global phenomenon. He looks back on it and still calls those “Linsanity” days some of the best moments of his career. In an otherwise forgettable year in NY – the guy was booed so badly in MSG that former coach Mike D’Antoni railed against fans in his defense – that early February stretch defined his season.
Now, Jeffries can step up, if you will, for the Blazers today as he did when the injury-riddled Knicks needed him. Jeffries will not start today but with Meyers Leonard (sprained right ankle) not on the trip, Jeffries should fill his role in the rotation. On Dec. 28, Jeffries broke a string of six straight DNPs to get some run against the Lakers. He played 15 and scored four points, pulled down three rebounds and pulled a classic Jeffries’ flop to draw an offensive foul on Dwight Howard.
As long as Leonard, who plays as the first big off the bench, remains sidelined, the Blazers could use a little Jared-sanity. No, he doesn’t have to warp into the JJ of 2004 who could still jump and averaged a career-high 6.8 points. The 31-year-old Jeffries plays a different role these days. He’s the unofficial spokesman of the Blazer locker room, called upon to take the mic and express warm gratitudes on behalf of the team. But Jared can be plenty useful on the court, too, with his defensive awareness, solid screens and passing. He’s not a threat to score, but Jeffries isn’t going to mess up the flow of the offense either.
2. Knicked Up
The Blazers should truly count their blessings on the injury front. Leonard may be down, but the diagnosis is a sprained ankle and has nothing to do with a knee (they tell us). Starting two-guard Wesley Matthews missed six of the last nine games while recovering from a left hip flexor strain injury and the Blazers didn’t falter without him – and even built a seven-game home winning streak. Even injuries to starters Nicolas Batum (back) and LaMarcus Aldridge (back, sprained ankle, sternal contusion) has not led to significant time away from the court.
So, the Blazers have dodged a few fiery darts. The Knicks, well, injuries are kicking tail up and down Manhattan. Amar’e Stoudemire hasn’t played a game yet and there was talk about him making his season debut tonight against the Blazers but he’s now “questionable.” The “questionable” tag also hangs over Carmelo Anthony, who hyperextended his knee during a Christmas Day loss.
The injury list doesn’t stop there: former Blazers Raymond Felton (out a month with a broken finger) and Rasheed Wallace (stress fracture in left foot) are also sidelined. No wonder the Knicks blew it in Sacramento last Friday.
3. Because where Larry David and Spike Lee sit matters
The Blazers aren’t the best draw in the NBA. Shocker, right? In their last four road games not played in Los Angeles (where the Lakers could play five marsupials and folks would still pack the Staples Center), the Blazers played in front of announced crowds no larger than 17,000. The stinker in Indiana on Dec. 5 was the worst, and I’m pretty sure those 11,569 people were all somehow related to Meyers Leonard.
But in New York, crowds won’t be a problem. Before the injuries, the Knicks have put a good product on the floor, making Madison Square Garden a must-see spectacle once again. And let’s face it, it’s NYC. The people will come out anyway. And by people, I mean famous people who’s PR flacks have set them up with courtside seats. So, here’s some star gazing for you.
4. Matthews says “he’s back”
Joe Freeman of the Oregonian reports that Matthews is preparing to return to the lineup today. I watched Matthews warm up during pregame on Saturday night. He was sweating through his workout shirt while chasing Nolan Smith around the court. Then, Matthews turned to his offensive game as assistant strength and conditioning coach Todd Forcier pushed and shoved him off the block. Forcier didn’t wear kid gloves while defending Matthews, and I thought he looked strong against the contact and even moved well in defending Smith. However, Matthews still wasn’t ready to give it a go. He takes so much pride in this game that he wanted to be able to hit a second, third or fourth gear (he explained to me) before returning to the court. That pre-game workout was just child’s play to him. But, he could be back today so it will be interesting if Matthews can stay in front of a guy like J.R. Smith who’s always looking to score.
5. That’s What He Said
The long-awaited return of Stoudemire could happen this week, but what kind of STAT will the Knicks be getting? Nate Taylor of the New York Times asked Stoudemire about the condition of his knee:
“I can do pretty much do anything, but it just feels sore when I do certain moves,” he said. “I don’t want to have that feeling because it forces me to overcompensate. I don’t want to have that problem.”
Now, the burning question is whether Stoudemire will come off the bench or return to the starting lineup?
Prediction: Throw away the loss to Sacramento, because when they’re healthy, the Knicks have looked strong. Best in the East-type strong. Able to beat a weak road like the Blazers-type strong. There are no easy patches in the Blazers’ weeklong road trip – after NYC, they go to Canada to play the Toronto Raptors on the second night of a back to back. Then just one day rest before back-to-backs in Memphis and Minnesota. I expect a close one in MSG, but a game that also favors the home team.
New York 101, Portland 96
Question of the Day: What was the longest road winning streak for the 2011-2012 Blazers?
Yup. Just one. Matching an all-time low set by the 1971-72 Blazers, which was the second year of the franchise.
Tipoff: 4:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet • 1190 AM/102.3 FM KEX
Officials of the night: Ed Malloy, Kevin Scott, Gary Zielinski