(Say hi to Zach DiLuzio, who will be doing some contributing for the site. He wrote a nice preview for you. -Joe)
Game time: 7:30 p.m.
Opponent: Detroit Pistons
The New York Knicks will face another early test to open the season with yet another matchup against a team coming off a playoff appearance.
The Pistons are built similarly to the Orlando Magic teams that featured prime Dwight Howard. Both teams were managed by longtime coach and Ron Jeremy lookalike Stan Van Gundy, and the influence is pretty obvious. Van Gundy likes to run a pick-and-roll heavy system surrounded by shooters, and despite some slight differences, he's managed to get pretty close to that vision.
Fortunately, the Knicks have caught another break with injuries, as starting PG Reggie Jackson will not be playing. This is a pretty big loss for Detroit — even though they won't have to trot out the corpse of Steve Blake anymore, Ish Smith isn't exactly anything to write home about, either.
Ish a fun player to watch, but he's also really tiny, and he's also a pretty bad scorer. He's never been consistently efficient, and he has DEFNINTELY never been a good shooter, which is something the Knicks can exploit. Derrick Rose defended fairly well on Saturday, and despite a reputation as a poor defensive player, he's never had major issues defending smaller guys. Rose should be ducking under every screen and cutting off driving lanes while cackling at Smith's pitiful attempts to shoot the rock, but he will likely share defensive duties with Courtney Lee, who should control Ish's movement with his body pretty easily.
The other end of that pick and roll is a little more imposing. Andre Drummond is an athletic freak who can destroy souls rolling to the rim or immolate a good defensive possession with his presence on the offensive glass. Drummond can finish almost anything as the roll man, so Joakim Noah will be tasked with keeping his body between Drummond and the rim at all times. This will be a really fun matchup to watch -- Drummond was completely neutered by Robin Lopez in at least one matchup, and Noah might just hide in the Pistons’ team luggage and fly back to Detroit to keep slinging verbal fireballs if he senses any signs of weakness on Drummond’s part. Jo is also physical enough to theoretically hold up on the glass, but he'll have his work cut out for him if he has to help on dribble drives. If Smith can draw Noah's help, Drummond will be free to secure easy position below the rim.
Stopping the ball at the point of attack and keeping Drummond off the glass will be the biggest key for the Knicks. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, and Tobias Harris round out the presumed starting unit for Detroit, and all three are mediocre shooters from behind the arc who can get hot if given the opportunity. Normally, this presents a really big issue -- defending the pick and roll often requires a perimeter defender to "bump" the roll man to prevent an easy dunk, which leaves a shooter open on the outside. Fortunately, Ish Smith can't see over a standard office cubicle without a stepladder; seeing through the forest of enormous human beings will be a challenge for him. This will allow the Knicks to have a bit more leeway with their weakside help. Reggie Jackson and his freaky Mr. Fantastic arms make those cross-court reads and passes with ease, but Ish will struggle to make the same plays.
The Porzingis-Tobias Harris matchup at the 4 is another to watch closely. Porzingis has always struggled to contain players who can shoot the rock and put the ball on the floor; Harris fits that profile to a T. Porzingis will need to stay down on pump fakes and close out with tact and poise to keep Harris contained. He'll also need to focus on using his insane length as an asset. If Porzingis gets too close on the perimeter, Harris will blow by with ease. If KP can tempt Harris into out-of-rhythm pull up jumpers early in the game, he'll secure a major advantage for the Knicks (assuming Harris doesn't get red hot, of course).
On the offensive end, the Knicks should have a marginal advantage. Caldwell-Pope is a solid defender, so whoever draws his attention (likely Rose, but possibly Lee) should spend a lot of time in motion, as Ish Smith is a total liability. Melo will do Melo things. Look for the Knicks to continue to generate open 3's for KP with pin-down screens, as Tobias Harris doesn't have the lateral quickness or defensive awareness to stop those kinds of actions.
Success on offense for the Knicks could come down to Derrick Rose’s ability to create havoc off the dribble. The point guard showed on Saturday that he's still got incredible burst and quickness, and he made a point to move the ball more effectively than he did in the opener. If Rose is making plays for others instead of chucking up wrong-footed, one-handed floaters while moving at 15 MPH perpendicular to the basket, he's still a productive player. Andre Drummond has the physical attributes to defend at a high level, but he has yet to become a sound positional defender, meaning it shouldn't be too hard to get him out of position with a little dribble penetration.
The Knicks bench has been pretty bad so far, particularly on defense, and Detroit has some guys that might look like Hakeem Olajuwon when defended by Kyle O'Quinn or Willy Hernangomez. Aron Baynes leads the league in ugly post moves that somehow go in per minute (Cole Aldrich and Robin Lopez have plenty of time to make a comeback), and Stanley Johnson would probably turn Mindaugas Kuzminskas into pure ethereal dust if given the opportunity in the low post. Boban Marjanovic has continued his role as the basketball embodiment of the Frankenstein monster. But overall, the Pistons bench is a weak spot — the Knicks will need to take advantage to give the starters some breathing room.
The X-factor for the Knicks bench could be Brandon Jennings, who has already become the primary focus of the biggest love-hate relationship I've ever had in my life. I'm almost certainly going to regret hoping for the Jennings revenge game. Such a performance has two distinct possible results: Jennnings could generate effective offense off the bench, or Jennings could generate five more air balls with his patented off the dribble pull-up in transition. Who knows with this guy.
Prediction - Melo leads with 24, Brandon Jennings finally hits a pull up 3 (he's 1 for 1,487 on the season, by my unofficial count) and Joakim Noah dishes another 6 assists while continuing his historic run of self-inflicted chest punches and animalistic bellowing. Dude thinks he's Kylo Ren out there.
Knicks win, 104-98.