There’s no doubt about it. This is a huge game for the Knicks.
They have lost 4 in a row, all on the road, and now trail the division leading Philadelphia 76ers by 5 1/2 games. With just 26 games remaining in this lockout shortened season, the Knicks must begin to win games and it starts today. The Knicks play Philadelphia 2 more times, including today, this season. These are games the Bockers must take if they want to catch Philadelphia and win the division. The Knicks have already defeated Philly earlier this season, winning 85-79 on January 11th. I believe the Knicks are a good matchup against Philadelphia and will win Sunday’s matinee matchup.
Here’s what to watch for:
- Carmelo Anthony versus Andre Iguodala. Last time these two teams met, things got chippy between Carmelo Anthony and Sixers small forward Andre Iguodala. Philadelphia paid the price as ‘Melo went for 27 and the Knicks won the game. In order for the Knicks to win tomorrow, Anthony must dominate the small forward matchup. Iguodala is no scrub. He made the all-star team this year and is one of the most explosive scorers in the league. He’s a plus defender and will be extra motivated to embarrass Anthony today. I think if Anthony can provide an efficient 25-30 points for the Knicks, they’ll have a great chance to win the game. ‘Melo has always played well against Iggy and I think he’ll do so today. Thanks to basketball-reference, we can see here how Anthony has dominated Iguodala in the past.
- The Knicks must attack. Philadelphia has been a mediocre team guarding the rim this season. According to Hoopdata, the Sixers rank 20th in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage when shooting at the rim. Without starting center Spencer Hawes, Philadelphia should be even more susceptible defensively to opponents finishing at the rim. In New York’s 85-79 victory over Philly in January, they shot only 15 shots at the rim and shot 42 shots from 16 feet or further. Philadelphia is a very strong perimeter defensive team and the Knicks should stay away from throwing up 3’s. Against the center combination of Tony Battie and Nikola Vucevic, the Knicks front court should be able to finish at the rim. While Amar’e Stoudemire’s defense has still been poor, his offense has seemingly improved over the past few games. He has hit 26 points twice in four games and has shot 52.8% over his past five. I think the Knicks will attack the paint today and, given Philadelphia’s weak interior defense, they should have success.
- Will D’Antoni shorten the bench? Philadelphia has a ton of depth. Their roster is chalk full of long defenders that are also quality scoring threats. The Knicks also have great depth, but the team has yet to mesh. In Milwaukee, rookie Iman Shumpert played only 5 minutes in a Knick loss. Coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game that Shumpert sat due to the fact that he just did not have great focus in that game. Is it possible that D’Antoni will be trying to shorten his bench in games? For whatever reason, D’Antoni felt that Shumpert shouldn’t have been on the court and he left him on the bench. In this game, could a guy like Josh Harrellson take a seat? Absolutely. Landry Fields could be another guy to eat pine on Sunday. It will be interesting to see what D’Antoni does with his rotation. He has noted that he wants to play Baron Davis and Jeremy Lin together more often. Playing minutes in this rotation takes minutes away from the Knicks plethora of wing players. JR Smith, Fields and Shumpert could all lose minutes if D’Antoni begins to ride the Davis/Lin backcourt late in the game. It should be interesting.
- The Knicks simply must play well. I know that sounds completely stupid but it is true. I could analyze more match ups but the bottom line is that if the Knicks play hard and well, they should win this game. As of late, the Knicks defensive effort has been poor. All season, the Knicks have been inconsistent shooting the ball. You can blame coaching but the bottom line is that if the Knicks do not play well, they do not win games. Is D’Antoni perfect? Absolutely not. Is any coach in any sport on any professional level perfect? No way. That being said, it does not matter what D’Antoni does if his players are not playing well. Sure, rotations and schemes help but if the Knicks are not hitting open shots then there is nothing D’Antoni can do. The Knicks can fix a lot of their problems by hustling more on defense or executing better offensively. The Knicks must come out in today’s game and play their game. They have yet to piece together many complete games this year. I think the biggest key for the Knicks to win today is to be sharp. Don’t turn the ball over. Don’t shoot 30 three pointers. Don’t shoot 31% from the field. Until they find some consistency shooting the ball, the Knicks will continue to be wildly inconsistent. Though it has sputtered as of late, the defense has been solid all year and the offense really has been the problem. In theory, the Knicks should have enough offensive weapons to compete with any team in the league on any given night, but that theory has yet to come to fruition. Obviously one game will not prove anything but I think a win today would go a long way into boosting New York’s confidence and potentially spark a run. In order to win, the Knicks must execute. They have to be smart with the ball and hit open shots. I think they can do it and I think they beat Philadelphia today.