Portland Trail Blazers vs. New York Knicks Pick & Prediction MARCH 14th 2024

Portland Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton is making major in-roads on shedding his label as an underperformer.

Ayton will chase his seventh consecutive double-double on Thursday night when the Trail Blazers host the stingy New York Knicks.

Ayton is in his first season with Portland after five campaigns with the Phoenix Suns.

He was the No. 1 overall pick by the Suns in the 2018 NBA Draft — two picks before superstar Luka Doncic — but was unable to be the difference-maker the franchise expected.

Still just 25, Ayton has delivered like a top-flight big man during his double-double streak.

Ayton is averaging 24.2 points on 64.2 percent shooting from the field and collecting 15.3 boards during the stretch. He has three 19-rebound games and two 30-point outings during the stretch, including a season-high 33 points on 15-of-20 shooting in Wednesday night’s 106-102 win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks.

“Just playing hard and approaching the game the way I want to approach it,” Ayton said. “Every night is a big night, playing with these guys and just being out there battling with them.”

Ayton’s success is what Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups was envisioning after the team acquired him in the three-team trade that sent Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks.

“I think we’ve unlocked him and we’re getting the best version of him, offensively for sure,” Billups said. “He’s been a monster, man. He’s been a monster on the glass. He’s been all over the place. He’s been awesome.”

Ayton thanked the “haters” for fueling his recent run and agreed with Billups’ “unlocked” opinion.

“Most definitely. Coming into these games, I’m trying to do everything,” Ayton said. “Not just my requirements for this team but doing a lot more. And that’s where I am. I’m just more dominant. People like to laugh at it, but that’s the truth.”

Anfernee Simons also fueled the win over the Hawks with 36 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

The Trail Blazers are 2-3 entering the finale of a six-game homestand, while the Knicks are beginning a four-game road trip.

New York has allowed an average of just 77.3 points a game while holding three straight teams under 80 points.

It is the first time the Knicks have done that in three consecutive games since November 2000, when current coach Tom Thibodeau was an assistant under Jeff Van Gundy.

“The thing is, 20 years ago that really was the style of play,” Thibodeau said. “So to be able to do it in today’s game, it’s a credit to the team. You have to be tied together, and you have to be working together, and you have to be able to count on each other.”

The Knicks lost one of those games, totaling the fewest points in the NBA this season during a 79-73 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.

But New York bounced back Tuesday to trounce the 76ers 106-79 in the finale of the two-game set at Madison Square Garden.

OG Anunoby (elbow surgery) returned from an 18-game absence and had 14 points in 29 minutes.

Josh Hart had a mammoth game with 20 points, a career-high-tying 19 rebounds and 10 assists for his fourth triple-double of the season.

“I think we played to our strengths,” Hart said. “I think we played faster. We took care of the ball. We rebounded the ball. We cut, we moved, we got good shots.”

Jalen Brunson also scored 20 points as New York won for just the sixth time in its past 16 games.

In the first meeting of the season, the Knicks routed the visiting Trail Blazers 112-84 on Jan. 9. Anunoby led New York with 23 points.

–Field Level Media

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