Portland and New York will both be fighting for playoff positioning, New York at the top of the Eastern Conference and Portland for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, so each team should place a high value on winning this game.
With so many players on the injury report, it's going to be hard to really know who is playing and who isn't until the game actually starts, but it seems that the main players in this one will be suited up and ready to go.
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBA League Pass
Records: Portland Trail Blazers (15-14), New York Knicks (21-9)
Betting Line: Not yet available
Injury Report: Meyers Leonard, Out (Ankle), Wesley Matthews, Questionable (Hip), Elliot Williams, Out (Achilles), Carmelo Anthony, Questionable (Knee), Tyson Chandler, Probable (Ankle), Amar'e Stoudemire, Doubtful (Knee), Iman Shumpert, Out (Knee), Rasheed Wallace, Out (Foot)
Key Storyline: New York's Stumble
It's not that the Knicks have suddenly fallen off a cliff, it's just that they look like a very beatable team recently, a perception that until now had not yet applied to this team this season.
Is it possible that they're finally falling back to Earth, realizing just what they actually are as a team, or are they just hitting a bump in the road? They've alternated wins with disappointing losses over their past eight games.
Of their wins, they nearly dropped games to the Cleveland Cavaliers (103-102, winning despite Kyrie Irving's 41-point "Dark Knight" game) and the Phoenix Suns (99-97, winning thanks to two ridiculous J.R. Smith shots falling).
They're still second in the Eastern Conference, so there's not a lot of concern, but the Knicks have been visibly struggling.
Key Matchup: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Tyson Chandler
There are going to be some obvious mismatches along the way in this game. Carmelo Anthony is going to have a field day if they cover him with J.J. Hickson (although Nicolas Batum is more likely), and Damian Lillard is going to sprint past Jason Kidd all day long.
In essence, Aldridge vs. Chandler is going to be a mismatch as well—but only because of the style of play from the two of these guys.
Chandler's raucous rim defense is going to meet with Aldridge's powerful yet subtle low-post game that has really been a bit disappointing this season. While he's not shooting as high a percentage as he has in seasons past, he's still a very dangerous fellow in the paint.
It's going to be an interesting one to say the least.
X-Factors: J.R. Smith and J.J. Hickson
As weird as it seems, J.J. Hickson is once again a basketball player. That is to say, he's looked effective for the first time since he and LeBron James were separated back in 2010.
Hickson definitely isn't a player that a team will prepare for specifically, but he's one who can end up making a big impact on a game if he gets loose and rowdy. He's put up six games with at least 16 rebounds this season and an impressive nine games with 15 points or more.
It's not the J.J. Hickson that the Kings trotted out last season; he seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
Meanwhile, we all know what J.R. Smith is capable of. Teams don't really need to prepare for him, but that's mostly because it's hard to prepare for Smith.
How do you tell a guy to watch out for Smith making a fade-away buzzer-beater that he's planning on banking off the glass from the baseline?
At this point in his career, it seems as if Smith is going to be on depending on how he feels. You can defend him hard, but he's going to make shots if he's feeling it.
The biggest problem with picking this game, like I said, has to do with who is and isn't playing.
If you've got Carmelo Anthony on the floor, then the answer is obvious. If you don't, then it might be time to rethink things.
Both he and Amar'e Stoudemire remain questionable, but something tells me Carmelo will be playing. Call it a hunch.
For the time being, I'm operating under the assumption that he is playing, and the Knicks have a bit of a chip on their shoulder after the loss to the Kings, so I've got to give them the nod.
New York Knicks 102, Portland Trail Blazers 94