The Knicks are heading to Atlanta on Sunday for their last regular-season bout with the Hawks. So far this season the two teams have split their two matchups, with the Knicks winning the first meeting by 17 and losing the second one by 10. The Knicks will be looking to bounce back after their pathetic (and I’m being quite generous) effort in the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers which also marked Amare Stoudemire’s return to the team. The chemistry between Melo and STAT picked up right where it left off, nonexistent. This game is an opportunity for the Knicks to right the ship against a very formidable Hawks team.
Here’s what to watch for:
- The chemistry, or lack thereof, between STAT and Carmelo could derail this team’s hope for success in the playoffs, but this game is a great chance for them to try build some cohesiveness and get the team’s momentum back. Melo will need to get back into the offensive groove he had been in for nearly a month. He will have a true test against this Hawks defense as he will most likely be guarded by Josh Smith. However, Melo did pour in 36 points the last time these two teams met. Meanwhile, Stoudemire will need to continue getting back into game-shape, defend for the ENTIRE game and crash the boards a lot harder than he did against Cleveland. 3 rebounds from our 4 will never cut it.
- DEFENSE. The Knicks have to be dedicated to defense against Atlanta because Josh Smith and Joe Johnson can both potentially erupt for 25-30 points. It is quite possible that we will see Shumpert playing on Joe Johnson most of the night and I think he has the defensive ability to shut down Johnson. Josh Smith is the other problem. His athleticism is what makes him a chore to deal with, but with the way Carmelo Anthony has been playing on the defensive end, he should be able to at least slow him down significantly.
- The past couple of games makes it painfully obvious that Mike Bibby, no longer the mummy, still has a little bit of game left in him somewhere. In the Knicks’ last 3 games Bibby has combined for 23 points, 18 assists and 10 boards. Most importantly, he has combined for a mere TWO turnovers in those 3 games combined compared to Baron Davis who has 71 turnovers in only 27 games this season.
- X-Factor Time. As usual, if J.R. Smith and Steve Novak can bury jumpers on Sunday, it makes winning a whole lot more probable. The Knicks should for JR what they do for Novak, use screens to get him open so he can spot up instead of having to turn into “Iso Earl” on every play. Also, JR needs to come to terms with his athleticism. I feel he has the athletic ability to get to the rim whenever he’d like so it would be good to see him penetrate a little more and chuck a lot less. J.R. Smith is currently shooting 41.5 % when he attempts spot-up 3’s and a pitiful 18.5% when shooting isolation 3’s, yet he is still shooting more iso 3’s than spot-up ones.