Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter didn’t get to play for the New York Knicks when one of the NBA’s marquee franchises fully embraced its role as the scrappy underdog.
But Anthony and Kanter will have a pretty good idea of what life is like these days for the Knicks on Saturday afternoon, when the duo is scheduled to lead the Portland Trail Blazers into New York for a rare non-conference matinee.
Both teams earned road wins in their previous games. The Trail Blazers ensured themselves at least a .500 road trip Thursday night, when undermanned Portland rode a dominant third quarter to a surprising 121-105 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Knicks earned a split of a two-game set with the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday by edging the hosts, 107-103.
The Trail Blazers beat one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams despite missing four-fifths of their optimal starting lineup. Leading scorer Damian Lillard was sidelined with a lingering abdominal injury he aggravated against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night. He joined second-leading scorer CJ McCollum (foot) as well as Jusuf Nurkic (right wrist) and Derrick Jones Jr. (foot) on the bench.
But Anthony, who tied a season-high with 22 points, and Kanter, who posted his sixth straight double-double by collecting 17 points and 18 rebounds, sparked a resurgent effort by the Trail Blazers, who broke open a tie game by scoring the first 14 points of the third quarter to take a 71-57 lead. Gary Trent Jr., who had a team-high 24 points, drained a pair of 3-pointers in the run.
“It will always be a memorable win,” Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said.
The Knicks haven’t enjoyed too many memorable wins since the last time they made the playoffs in 2012-13, when Anthony won the NBA scoring title while sparking a run to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Knicks were 184-374 over the subsequent seven seasons– including 17-65 in 2018-19, when Kanter averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in 44 games before being waived and eventually signed by the Trail Blazers — before finally committing to a rebuild this season under first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau.
On Wednesday, the Knicks started four players age 26 or younger as they improved to 10-13. New York needed 34 games to get to 10 wins last season and didn’t record its 10th win until the 39th game of the 2018-19 campaign.
The most exciting young player for the Knicks has been rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley, who hasn’t started this season but has scored in double digits in nine of the 19 games in which he’s played. On Wednesday, though, New York was led by starting point guard Elfrid Payton, who scored 20 points and pulled down eight rebounds.
“Listen, we need everyone,” Thibodeau said. “Some nights it’s his night and some nights it’s someone else’s night. That’s what I love about our team. We have to share in that, and we have to do it together.”
–Field Level Media