We started off the 2014 season with a bang, promptly defeating some of the league's toughest teams including the Spurs, Heat, Dallas, and Phoenix, who all have winning records. Sure there was the Rockets, but at least that was a close game. The Knicks seemed to be moving the ball well, shooting at a high percentage, and playing solid defense. Once it seems like a playoff berth is possible, then the Knicks do what they do best and crush everybody's dreams, losing to the Pacers (a blowout, but semi understandable) and the Bobcats. Yes, the BOBCATS.
And now the Knicks head back to the Garden on Friday night for a prime time match-up against the #1 Pacific Division team, the L.A. Clippers. And I am scared sh*tless.
How could you not fear Lob City? Even without Chris Paul, they have one of the most explosive offensives in the NBA right now. Griffin averages a double double a game, Reddick and Crawford score 16-17 a night, and DeAndre Jordan is putting up almost 10 points and thirteen boards a game, and if that wasn't enough, he also sends back around 2.5 balls a night. The team as a whole is in the top five for assists and points per game and they also fall into the top half of the league in rebounds and points allowed. Damn.
Of course, things don't look much better as Kenyon Martin, who has been averaging around 7 points and 7 boards over the last 3 games, is now injured again with ankle problems. The same goes for offensive threat Amar'e Stoudemire, who suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter of the Pacers game and did not return. Both players status is unknown for Friday's game. Both players would be sorely missed by the Knicks, who need Martin's defensive and rebounding presence against Griffin and Jordan, who will likely dominate the weak post defensive game in New York. Amar'e doesn't contribute as much defensively, but his post game has certainly been the only threat offensively on the block in recent games.
Now, let's not be too hard on our Knickerbockers. With the exception of tonights loss to the Pacers, the team has finally been playing like the roster we saw early in 2012, as opposed to the heavy Carmelo Anthony isolation ball. Most of the players have been shooting well and the ball has been moving well, with even Melo sharing and dishing out some assists to outside shooters like Hardaway Jr. and JR Smith. Although we have seen less of Smith recently, he is certainly not the only reason the Knicks have been winning in January, and in fact, his potential (and that's all it is frankly, potential) to score and heat up very quickly lifts some pressure to score off Anthony and keeps perimeter defenders on their toes.
Individually, here's what I see from the Knicks.
Chandler will without a doubt start in my mind. The Knicks will certainly need his post defense, because honestly, after Tyson, there is no post defense. When it comes to high fliers like Griffin and Jordan attacking the paint, Chandler will have to keep his fouls down in the first half as the Knicks cannot afford to lose him early to foul trouble. Chandler's efforts to stop the bigmen of the Clips will likely be one of the big X factors tomorrow night.
The 4 will probably be Bargnani, although there is a very slight chance the Knicks go with Melo at the 4. When the Knicks squared off against Lob City in November, Bargnani actually played quite well, quietly scoring 20 points and adding 9 rebounds. While Griffin didn't have a terrific night, shooting only 6-13 for 15 points, he hauled in 13 rebounds. Bargnani will need to step up again on defense and crash the boards if the Knicks want to win it.
Carmelo is always the focal point of this offense, and tomorrow will be no different. Look for him to shoot, and shoot often, as the Amar'e less Knicks will focus on outside shooting even more. Here is the tough part to determine. The Knicks will likely get no production in the paint, so shooters like Melo will need to hit a great deal of shots of keep the offense rolling. While Melo never usually has a tough time scoring 20+ points, his field goal percentage against defensive prescence Jared Dudley will likely have a huge impact on the Knicks offensively.
Shumpert will play the off guard against hot shooter JJ Reddick. The Duke product has been on fire since returning, and it will be Shumpert's job to ensure that his outside shots are kept in check. While Shumpert's offensive game has been better in January, his defense is still rather suspect, and he will need to have a big game defensively to keep the Knicks in it. If Woodson gives Shumpert specific duties on defense, they will likely be to force Reddick to make tough shots or enter the paint.
Ray Felton will bring up the ball tomorrow night. He will be meet by the elusive Darren Collison. A bit of a wild card offensively, Collison has been able to put up crazy shooting nights sometimes (against Orlando he put up 21 points on 73% shooting) and nothing other nights. He is sort of like a quicker and less offensively talented mirror of Felton on the stats sheet, both of them averaging around 10 points and 5+ assists a game. While Collison is not going to bring Felton to his knees on either side of the court, he is someone to watch out for.
Off the bench the Knicks should expect some kind of production from outside shooter Tim Hardaway Jr. JR Smith will likely play, although his minutes and productivity are unknown. Toure Murry will contribute where he can, much like Beno Udrih. The rest will likely see garbage time if the game becomes a blowout.
My prediction, New York certainly has the potential to win this game. They are coming back to the Garden, and over the course of this month they have been playing much better. While the outside shooting of New York could keep it close, whether the team will heat up or not is a variable that simply can't be measured. Without Martin or Amar'e, the Knicks simply don't have the low post presence to scare the Clips on either side of the floor.
Clippers 101, New York 92