Toronto always plays the Knicks tough.
The Raptors may be just 15-30, but they’ll give a strong effort tonight. The Knicks have been surging as of late, now that Carmelo Anthony is trying, having won three straight games. Despite their recent surge, the Knicks are still just the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. They remain only a half game up on the Milwaukee Bucks who added Monta Ellis at the trade deadline.
Make no mistake about it. This is a huge game for the Knicks. Sure, Toronto is not a great team, but the Knicks need wins any way they can get them. Including tonights game, only nine of the Knicks last twenty-one opponents have sub .500 records. Even if the Knicks win all nine games, they’ll still be in trouble in the playoff picture. New York must win at least eight of these nine games, plus some additional games in order to make the playoffs.
Here’s what to watch for:
- Jose Calderon is expected to play. Calderon cooked Jeremy Lin last time these two teams played. The Raptors point guard was on a roll until the Knicks switched Iman Shumpert onto him in the 4th quarter. Calderon finished that game with 25 points and 9 assists, but the Raptors scored just 12 fourth-quarter points and lost the game. I think the Knicks defense of Calderon will be a huge factor in this game. If they can neutralize Calderon, the Raptors offense will struggle to hit shots consistently.
- Will there be a let down by the Knicks? When teams fire coaches, teams seem to find energy. The emotions run high and the players bond together and play much harder than they had before. This usually lasts for only a few games as there usually is a good reason the coach was fired. In the three games following the firing/resignation of Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks have rolled over their opponents en route to a three game winning streak. However, the Knicks haven’t played since Saturday night and there is a chance their high energy levels could slip tonight. They’ve had Monday and Tuesday off to let their emotions cool. I think there’s a good chance the Knicks struggle tonight. They should win the game, I don’t think they’ll lose, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they let the Raptors make a game out of this.
- Will Carmelo try? Over the past three games, Anthony has averaged just 12.3 shot attempts per game and 5 assists per game. This is how Mike D’Antoni wanted him to play, but for whatever reason Anthony was non responsive to the Knicks prior lame duck coach. The Knicks new lame duck coach, Mike Woodson, has publicly stated how he wants to run the show through Anthony. However, Anthony’s shot attempts the past three games haven’t shown this. Sure, Anthony hasn’t played a ton of minutes, due to the Knicks blowing teams out, but the offense still hasn’t run completely through him. In the 4th quarter of Saturday nights game, Jeremy Lin, not Carmelo Anthony, was the man taking control of the offense down the stretch. This was ironic because D’Antoni wanted the offense running through Lin and Anthony was unwilling to let that happen. I’m just curious to see, if things don’t go well tonight, how Anthony reacts. He’s been playing unselfishly the past three games, but I don’t expect that to happen. The reason D’Antoni is gone is because Anthony wanted the ball more. He’s not going to be satisfied shooting the ball 12 times a game. If Anthony doesn’t start getting his shots, he may stop trying. Again.
- How will the Knicks defend Bargnani? Andrea Bargnani poses a problem offensively for the Knicks. He’s either going to shoot over Amar’e Stoudemire all game, or he’s going to pull Chandler out of the post. Bargnani is very good outside shooting and likes to float around the perimeter. It will be interesting to see how the Knicks defend Bargs. I think the Knicks will want to guard him with Chandler, but if 7’0 center Aaron Gray is in the game, Chandler will need to guard him to keep his big frame off the boards. Stoudemire is going to have to show up defensively. His defense has been improved since D’Antoni’s departure and he needs to continue to play like that tonight.
- Lets make some shots! Over the past three games, the Knicks have shot 42.5% from outside the arc. They are also 3-0. Obviously any team will be better when they hit shots, but it is imperative for this Knicks offense to make their shots. The three point shot is a staple of this offense and the Knicks can compete with anyone when they hit shots. Much of the Knicks recent success has been due to the resurgence of JR Smith. Smith has shot 42.8% from downtown the past three games. He must continue to spark the Knicks from outside. Steve Novak is really the Knicks only consistently good three point shooter. Smith is wildly inconsistent, but is a great weapon to have when is shooting well. If the Knicks can shoot 40% from downtown tonight, they should win this game in impressive fashion. If they don’t shoot well from outside… watch out.