Knicks-Hawks: What to Watch For

The new look Knicks will try to rebound from Monday’s loss to New Jersey tonight against the Hawks at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks and Hawks split their 4 game season series last season. Tonight will be game 2 of the Melo/Lin era. Game 1 did not go so well as Anthony was rusty and Lin was passive late in the game. I expect both players to play well tonight against a quality opponent. As showcased in my piece yesterday, the Knicks fail to bring energy against bad teams but have been able to get up for good teams. Atlanta, 19-13, is a quality opponent. I think the Knicks will play well tonight and defend home court.

Here’s what to watch for:

  • Iso-Joe Johnson is out tonight for the Hawks. The Hawks shooting guard is their best player despite his struggles this season. He is often referred to as the “quietest superstar in the league”. That nickname is funny to me because he’s not a superstar at all. After flourishing under Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix, Johnson has been a very good player in Atlanta but his talent level does not match up to his max-salary contract. His replacements tonight will be the lethal combination of Willie Green and a 73 year old Tracy McGrady. If you’ve never heard of Willie Green, don’t fret because nobody else has either. Both of Johnson’s replacements are subpar NBA players but both players can get hot from the outside. The Knicks haven’t defended the perimeter well this season. Tonight, they’ll need to keep Green and T-Mac from getting hot from beyond the arc. Iman Shumpert will be out again for the Knicks tonight. JR Smith has shown he is willing to play defense and Landry Fields is a very good defender so the Knicks should be okay tonight. Then again, they should have been okay the other night against the Nets.
  • Tyson Chandler has to keep his cool tonight. The Hawks starting center is Zaza Pachulia, who is the epitome of the annoying euro-flopping big man. Kris Kardashian got under Chandler’s skin Monday night resulting in the Knick center picking up his 8th technical of the year. 13 results in a suspension. I love Chandler’s intimidating attitude and style of play but he also needs to be smart. Pachulia will try his best to piss Chandler off tonight. Unfortunately for Pachulia, he may take a fist to the face tonight if the Knicks struggle. Although, having seen this picture how can you blame Chandler?

  • How will the Knicks shoot from the perimeter? Atlanta is a mediocre defensive team on the perimeter. They rank 20th in the NBA in opponent 3 point shooting percentage. Obviously the Knicks have been very poor from outside the arc this season. However, the emergence of Steve Novak and the signing of JR Smith give the Knicks stronger perimeter shooting. In the win against Dallas on Sunday, the Knicks shot 12/29 from outside the arc. In the loss to New Jersey, the Knicks shot 5/21. I am not one to say the Knicks live and die by the 3, because they don’t, but they are obviously far more successful when they don’t shoot 23% from downtown.
  • Can we get some pick and roll going with Amar’e? I understand that the center is the primary screen man in D’Antoni’s offense but I really believe the Knicks need to get Amar’e Stoudemire going in the pick and roll. Clearly his game has been off this season, I think if he could find some rhythm in the pick and roll he could get his game going. The Knicks need Amar’e and they need him badly. They scored only 89 points monday night on Monday. When Carmelo struggles, this team struggles to score. Amar’e has got to be the force he was brought in to be. Before he had to miss a week due to his horrible family tragedy, Stoudemire was beginning to come around. I think ultimately he will start to play better, but with this team currently 16-17 the Knicks need him back sooner rather than later.
  • Melo must get going. He gets a pass for Monday’s game because he was clearly rusty. No excuses tonight. He has an inferior position matchup in Marvin Williams. This is not Miami or Chicago. This is not an elite defense he is facing. Tonight will be a great look into how/if Melo and Lin can co-exist. Obviously it will take time and tonight should not be the definitive answer to the Melo/Lin question but tonight is important. Tonight is game 2 of the Melo/Lin era but this is game 1 with no excuses. Anthony was wildly rusty on Monday but tonight he should be good to go. If the Knicks offense struggles tonight, the already heavy criticism of Melo will pick up even more. Him and Lin have to start clicking or this team will be bombarded by the media and it won’t be about Linsanity. They will crucify Melo if the Knicks do not keep winning. Tonight is the true beginning of the Melo/Lin era. I think the criticisms are silly and I think Melo will be even better with Lin. He won’t have to worry about playing point-forward, he just needs to play his game. He needs to attack, he needs to make smart basketball decisions and he needs to win. If Melo takes 30 shots a game within the offense and the Knicks win, so be it. If Melo takes 3 shots a game within the offense and the Knicks win, so be it. Melo must win and he must find an equilibrium with Jeremy Lin to do so. It will be interesting.
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