Middle Kingdom Previews - Alliteration Road Trip: Wizards, Wolves

USA TODAY Sports

Yeah, so maybe I cheated by shortening "Timberwolves" to "Wolves"...whatchu gonna do about it, huh???

Streak alert: the Knicks have lost their last two quarters of basketball.

Pathetic.

Of course, if you widen your field of view to the past 20 quarters, and divide by four, it shows the Knicks on a five-game win streak. Gussy up the math all you want, Mike Woodson still isn't impressed.

Woodson

via theknickswall.com

Let's review the win streak, shall we? The Knicks started off by beating a Hawks team by two, when Josh Smith bricked a game-winning three at the buzzer, and Knicks fans were all like "...sure, they're winning, but why does it have to be so close?" And then the Knicks won their next four games by the following margins: 16, 10, ∞, 15. That works out to an average margin-of-victory of (∞+41)/4...which still equals ∞, right? Eh...screw this Math stuff, let's just call it 20 points per game -- not ∞, but still impressive.

The Knicks' bench has been a key component in there recent dominance. J.R. Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire averaged 17.4 and 18.0 points per game, respectively. Want to know what makes the Knicks' offense so dangerous? Imagine you're an opposing head coach -- try game-planning for a starting lineup which includes the league's second-leading scorer...and when you're done with that, try to figure out how to stop two reserves who can drop 40 points between them at the drop of a hat. I only wish there was a word to describe Amar'e's recent play. Ephemeral? Pheromonal? I feel like I'm so close here...

Now the Knicks hit the road for a quick two-game road trip against a couple of division cellar dwellers.

Wed., Feb. 6 - @ Washington Wizards

Chinese name: 奇才 (qi-cai) Lit. "rare talent"

Oh Wizards, how I love thee, let me count the ways: ten losses in a row to the Knickerbockers. Can the Knicks make it eleven?

The Wizards are bad on offense. Astonishingly bad. They are 30th in the NBA in offensive efficiency -- but simply throwing the number "30th" out there is a pretty much an insult to the other 29 teams. The Wizards average 97.2 points per 100 possessions, which is 4.5 points less than the 29th-rated offense, the 76ers (101.7 points per 100 possessions). The Wizards are so bad on offense that they've managed the nearly-impossible feat of scoring the fewest points in the NBA while playing at an above-league-average pace -- they get more possessions than 17 other NBA teams and still can't outscore any of them.

Do the Knicks players realize how bad the Wizards are on offense? I doubt they're checking other team's stats on B-Ref on a daily basis. They probably get their info from the coaching staff. I think this situation presents Mike Woodson with a bit of a dilemma: his players have demonstrated time and again the inability to maintain defensive intensity. So how will Woody prepare his team for the Wizards? Will he focus on the Wizards' offensive ineptitude during pre-game meetings, challenging his guys with a fiery, "No way in hell these guys should score on you" speech? Or will he downplay the Wizards' scoring problems because he fears complacency from his guys? I'd like to ask you, P&T'ers, what you would do in Woody's place.

The Knicks better hold down the Wizards' because, as good as the Knicks' offense is, there's no guarantee they will have their way in this game. The Wizards can defend -- they are in the top 10 in the NBA in defensive efficiency for the first time since 1987-88, when Bernard King and Moses Malone joined forces with these two delightful gentleman.

As bad as they've been, the Wizards have also shown a surprising tendency to knock off superior competition -- of their 12 wins, 7 have come against above-.500 teams. They have already knocked off four NBA division leaders -- Clippers, Bulls, Thunder, Heat -- and, strange as it still is to us Knicks fans, the Knicks fit that bill.

Okay, those are the rational concerns heading into this match-up. But I remain a Knicks fan first and a rational human being second, so let me tell introduce a new segment: Joe's Ludicrous Concern of the Week. Back on January 4, the Wiz took the New Brooklyn Nets to overtime and opened up a 101-93 lead with 1:27 left. What followed over the next 80 seconds was one of the most astonishing single-handed choke-jobs of the year by one Jordan Crawford: turnover, missed 2-pt shot from 16 ft, missed free throw, second missed free throw, missed shot from 17 ft. Nobody else on the Wizards got a chance to shoot until Bradley Beal nailed a miracle three at the buzzer. Then, for good measure, Crawford turned the ball over once in double-OT and missed the winning shot at the buzzer. That game has stayed in my mind. Ladies and gentlemen, I am officially terrified of Jordan Crawford in this game. The man is a pure, heartless chucker; he is solely responsible for losing the Nets game, and now he has a chance to catch fire against the Knicks and effect a two-game swing in the already tight Atlantic Division standings. Please, Knicks, don't let it be Crawford.

Fri., Feb. 8 - @ Minnesota Timberwolves

Chinese name: 森林狼 (sen-lin lang) Lit. "forest wolf"

The Timberwolves are the best last-place team in the NBA -- all that and two yuan will get them a ride on the Beijing subway (better not ride after 9 pm, fellas...there's a pretty good chance you'll see some random dude vomiting).

This was supposed to be the year that they made their big push for a playoff spot after league-high 8-year dry spell. Unfortunately they've fallen prey to both injuries and the Geography Lottery (great name for a "Schoolhouse Rock" song, BTW). They're stuck in the Northwest Division, toughest in the NBA. Despite their injuries, and the place in the Northwest's cellar, this team can play.

The Wolves came perilously close to beating the Knicks in the Garden on December 23 -- leading 86-82 with three minutes left in the fourth, until Carmelo Anthony went full-on HeroBall with eight unanswered points, then four free throws to ice the game. The Knicks needed those free throws because J.R. Smith coughed the ball up to Alexey Shved, who sank a quick three to keep the game tight. This Shved fellow worries me -- I saw him in the Olympics last summer and he looked good; then he put up 18 points on the Knicks and proved himself to be quite the nuisance. I figured he must be having a fine season for the Wolves, but then I checked his per-36 numbers:

13.8 PPG / 5.9 APG / 3.0 TOV / .377 FG% / .317 3P% / 12.2 PER / .045 WS/48

Those aren't particularly good numbers. In fact, the 18 points he scored against the Knicks remains as his second-highest total this season. This can only mean one thing -- we have a potential OSKA on our hands. OSKA stands for Otherwise Scrub Knick Assassin, and so far Shved fits the three main criteria:

  1. White
  2. Not good...
  3. ...except when playing the Knicks

Now, one game does not an OSKA make, but keep an eye on Shved. If he torches the Knicks again he'll be well on his way of earning the title "The Russian Dunleavy."

The way the Wolves score their points can only be described as "very anti-Knicks" - they can't shoot the three (30th in 3P%) or hold onto the basketball (20th in TOV%), but they get to the line (7th in FT/FGA) and crash the offensive glass (4th in ORB%). I'm amazed by this team's ability to maintain their rebounding advantage despite playing most of the year without Kevin Love. It seems that no matter who the Wolves plug into their front-court, the guy will rebound like a beast. Want are they putting in the water up in Minnesota? Could it be the same formula as"Michael's Secret Stuff" from the famous halftime scene of Space Jam?

...wait a minute...that looks like a PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUG! Michael Jordan was on PEDs! Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd were on PEDs! And what about Bill Murray's cameo? Could PEDs have been behind his transcendent performance in Groundhog Day? And can we really trust Punxsutawney Phil to predict the weather if he has associated with known drug cheats?

(Sorry, I suddenly came down with an acute case of Sportswriter PED Fever. That stuff spreads faster than Super Gonorrhea.)

Can the Knicks make it seven in a row? Both of these games are winnable, but I'll never feel comfortable calling a Knicks road game a "gimme". Hell, they needed a J.R. buzzer-beater to knock off the Bobcats in Charlotte back in the day. Hopefully they'll take care of business against these teams and ride the momentum into the two remaining home games before the All-Star Break. Get it done, Knicks!

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