Game Preview & Thread: Mavericks at Knicks

The Knicks have lost five of their last six games, so things are pretty dreary at the opponent. To make the postseason the Knicks have to go on a major run to end the season, so perhaps they’ll get back to winning tonight as they host the Dallas Mavericks.(LOL). To get a better idea of what the Knicks are up against tonight I brought in Kirk Henderson of Mavs Outsider and Tim Cato of Mavs Moneyball.

Enjoy!

The Mavericks come into New York on a two-game winning streak and currently hold the 8th spot in the Western Conference. Do you think the team holds steady and makes the playoffs?

Kirk: Right now, I think most Mavs fans would say yes without reservation. I’ve been taking the schedule a month at a time because it’s been clear the March and April slate of games were going to be brutal for Dallas. The Mavericks have played above expectations, are 11 games over .500 and are STILL 8th in the West. So to answer your question, I’d give a tentative yes, though seeding will go down to the final day with Phoenix, Golden State, and Memphis right there in the mix for the 6-7-8 seeds.

Tim:I don’t see Minnesota getting back into the playoff picture — it’s a four-team race for the final three spots in the West, in my eyes. Between Golden State, Phoenix, Memphis and Dallas (2.5 games separates them all), it may just come down to the schedule. I think the Mavericks’ fate will be decided one way or another in the first half of March, where they some of the top teams in the league. If they can stay afloat and at least not fall back by more than a game or two, I like their chances of making a strong April push.

The Mavericks have eight players on the roster with above-average PER’s, but which role player(s) would you say have been the most critical for the Mavs success this season?

Kirk: I’d have to say Devin Harris. He’s only played the past 15 or so games, but he came back from his toe surgery at just the right time. He’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades in a deep guard rotation for Dallas. Everyone knows that Monta Ellis is going to put his head down and drive at the basket. The same goes for Jose Calderon and shooting the ball from deep. Harris gives Dallas that x-factor off the bench that opposing teams can’t always match. He’s still surprisingly fast and a good enough shooter to cause havoc. When you pair him with Vince Carter and Brandan Wright, the Maverick bench unit is pretty formidable.

Tim:Brandan Wright and Vince Carter are the two players off the bench who can change a game or spark a big run. Wright can struggle on defense in some match-ups, but he’s a lethal pick-and-roll finisher and slips the pick better than anyone in the league. His favorite pick-and-roll handler is Vince Carter, who’s more man than amazing these days but still can explode for some scoring bursts when needed.

Offense is definitely not an issue for this year’s Mavericks team, but are 23rd in the league in DRtg. Why have they struggled so much defensively?

Kirk: Whatever the question is, if Samuel Dalembert is the answer then you’re doing it wrong. When three of your five starters are Dirk, Ellis, and Calderon, there are going to be holes, massive, endless holes in a defense. Shawn Marion is 35 and a capable defender, but he and Dalembert are not able to cover for the lack of defensive ability in the rest of their teammates. This was always going to be the case, though, which is why Dallas has often embraced absurd line ups featuring DeJuan Blair as the starting center. The goal of a basketball game is to score more than the other team and on most nights the Mavericks are able to overwhelm their opponents.

Tim:Up and down the roster, the Mavericks just have lots of weak defenders who play major minutes. It starts with Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, includes DeJuan Blair and sometimes Wright, and of course has to include the 35-year-old Dirk. In fact, the team being as high as 23rd in the league is a testament to Shawn Marion’s ability to be everywhere at once, and Rick Carlisle’s sheer brilliance on hiding poor defenders. If the defense can play well enough to avoid losing games for the Mavericks, the offense can and has bailed them out time and time again.

The Knicks are giving up 106.2 points per 100 possessions, 27th in the league, but how would you go about slowing down this Mavericks offense if you’re the Knicks?

Kirk:Goad Monta Ellis into a tough shooting night. He’s the spark Dallas uses to get going most games, mainly through high screen and rolls with Dirk. If Ellis has an even marginal chance at taking a shot, he’s probably going to. When he’s off, it causes problems for the rest of the Dallas flow. Dirk Nowitzki will still get his no matter who is guarding him, but Calderon and the rest of the offense tend to rely on Monta’s drives to open things up for them. New York is really well suited to shutting down Dallas, as they did in the first match up.

Tim:Start with Dirk. Double him, not just when he gets hot, but from the very start. He won’t commit the turnover in most instances, but that’s not the point. The Knicks need to get the offense out of rhythm and flustered, and not being able to rely on the number one option to get them quality shots is the first step in that direction.

Who ultimately wins tonight and why?

Kirk: New York in a close one. Dirk will put up a lot of points because that’s what Dirk does, but Melo out duels him because Dallas doesn’t have anyone who can remotely contain him. Add in the fact that the other match ups really favor the Knicks; New York has size in the guard positions that Dallas can’t match. It’s also the third road game for Dallas and a team this old travel can wear them down. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mavericks won, but I expect this to be a frustrating loss for Dallas fans.

Tim:A month ago, I would have said New York. But the Mavericks have won nine of 12, mostly by taking care of Eastern Conference teams that they’re better than. I’m not sure the Knicks offense can keep up, so plan for a 120-110 style shootout.

2013-14 Game Thread: Knicks @ Magic

The Knicks play one of the tankiest tanking teams that ever tanked tonight in the Orlando Magic, who recently waived one of the few players on the team that has given Melo a bit of a hard time, Big Baby Davis, so we will hopefully see something we haven’t seen in too long – a two-game winning streak for the Knicks!

The drive for .500 (or at least a playoff spot if not .500) continues!

Let’s go Knicks!

Game Preview & Thread: Knicks at Pelicans

The New York Knicks take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight at 8:00 EST in their second game of a back-to-back. To get a better idea of what the Knicks are in for tonight I brought in Mason Ginsberg of Bourbon Street Shots and David Fisher of The Bird Writes.

Enjoy!

After a rough January the Pelicans have won four of their last seven games. The Pelicans are 23-29 overall, last in the Southwest Division, but it really doesn’t seem like they’ve been that bad. What’s been the biggest reason(s) for their struggles this season?

Mason: Injuries, without question. This team’s 2013-14 ceiling was nothing more than a 7th or 8th seed, but with a full complement of players, they could have certainly pushed for a playoff spot. Anderson and Holiday have both missed considerable periods of time, and even Anthony Davis has missed 8 games. The hope was that the Pelicans would have their new core play together for most of the season and start to build some chemistry, but that unfortunately hasn’t happened so far.

David: Injuries. Ryan Anderson has missed 30 games. Jrue Holiday has missed 18. The pieces worked when they were together, but the rotation has been a series of stops and starts. Anderson in particular is important. He creates the space necessary for their trio of bal dominant guards (Holiday, Evans, Gordon) to operate. This team simply avoids taking threes without Anderson in the lineup.

With the trade deadline coming tomorrow I have to ask, what are the chances Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps makes a big trade by tomorrow?

Mason: The only way that the Pelicans make a major move is if Eric Gordon is involved. I don’t really think that they’re looking to move any of their other big contracts; not only is Gordon overpaid, but his skill set is redundant on this team. Other than him, the only players that may be dealt are lesser role players.

David: I think he is torn due to the above. The five big contracts on the roster together were very successful. On the other hand, there is a lot of redundancy. Moving Gordon is probably the number one thing he’s working, but finding a taker for his contract is going to be difficult. I would love a trade like the one below, but doubt the Knicks would think Rivers is a sufficient upgrade from Felton.

Outside of Anthony Davis, who would you else has excelled for the Pelicans this season? Who has fallen off?

Mason: Other than Anthony Davis, it has been a rough year for the rest of the team, as players have either played well but gotten hurt (Holiday, Anderson) or have had disappointing years. Withey has done more than most expected from him and Rivers has undoubtedly improved from last season, but excessive minutes for low-upside players like Roberts, Stiemsma and Ajinca have arguably been roadblocks to their development.

David: No other players have really stuck out either direction. Tyreke Evans gets a lot of flak nationally due to his low production, but digging deeper he has been efficient. His minutes have diminished significantly and he has struggled at the basket playing with lineups featuring two bigs, most times two big who are non-factors on offense. Eric Gordon has actually been healthy, which is a promising development long term. With Brian Roberts running the offense Gordon gets froze out for long stretches, but I blame that on execution rather than Gordon being passive.

The Pelicans are 26th in the league in DRtg, which seems high for their roster. Why have they struggled defensively? How should the Knicks game plan to attack them?

Mason: Outside of Davis and the injured Holiday, the Pelicans don’t really have any surefire plus defenders. Aminu, Gordon, & Evans are all athletic, but none are consistent on the defensive end, so the team has trouble on the wings. In the middle, Ajinca and Stiemsma are fouling machines, so opponents frequently get into the penalty early in quarters. Additionally, Monty Williams’ hard hedging defensive system takes Davis away from the rim too much, which further impacts the strength of the defense.

David: The defense has actually been much better in the past 13 games, 10th in the league according to NBA Stats. The Pels have struggled for schematic more than personnel reasons. They play a rather aggressive scheme (covered below) forcing inexperienced players into chaos rotations on the backside, leading to frequent breakdowns and open shots for the opposition.

The key to attacking the Pelicans is involving Anthony Davis in Pick and Roll defense, strange as that might sound. The Monty Williams scheme is heavy on hard hedging; getting the best individual defender for New Orleans 30+ feet from the basket is always a good idea. Run high pick and roll all night and pass the ball – open threes will result.

Who ultimately wins tonight and why?

Mason: Though New Orleans is the home team and holds a 3 1/2 game lead over New York in a more difficult conference, I expect game to be a very close one. If the Pelicans continue their foul-happy practices and give the Knicks more free throw attempts than they typically earn, they could easily get upset. That being said, if guys like Roberts, Morrow, and Babbitt can capitalize on the Knicks’ poor perimeter defense, then the Pelicans could win by double digits. My prediction: New Orleans 89, New York 86.

David: The Pelicans should win. They are much more rested than the Knicks and have two full days of practice under their belt. New York going (and staying) small should force Monty Williams to match; always good to limit Greg Stiemsma’s minutes and increase AD’s time at center. Pelicans come out strong and hold on for dear life to the end, winning 93-88.

 

Game Preview & Thread: Knicks at Grizzlies

The Knicks are in Memphis tonight to take on a revitalized Grizzlies team at 8:00 EST. To help get everyone’s mind off Knicks trade rumors and stop fiddling with ESPN’s Trade Machine I brought in Jonathan May of 3 Shades Of Blue and Chris Faulkner of Grizzly Bear Blues to discuss tonight’s game.

Enjoy!

The Grizzlies host the Knicks tonight winners of their last two games before the All-Star break. In January, the team really got back on track winning 11-of-12 at one point. What’s been the biggest reason for their recent surge?

Jonathan: The surge experienced in late December (starting with the December 21st win in New York, by the way) into early February can be explained by a couple of things. First, we finally got healthy (for a second) when Marc Gasol returned on January 14. Marc’s value is not always easy to quantify with traditional statistics, but his presence on the floor allows everyone to play more comfortably on offense and more aggressively on defense. Second, the addition of James Johnson and Courtney Lee have given the team a big boost. Dr. JJ (aka “The Equalizer” aka “Double J” aka “Damage Hammer” aka “Blood Sport”) has given the Grizzlies energy and play-making off the bench that was desperately needed once it became clear that Jerryd Bayless was not going to be that guy this season. CL33 has been a solid (at times spectacular) shooter, and has given Randolph and Gasol much needed space in the paint while also being a better defender than he gets credit for.

Chris: With the Grizzlies season marred by so many injuries, I’d have to give credit to several people for that January surge. James Johnson came out of the D-League to supply the Grizzlies with much needed vigor. Acquiring Courtney Lee was huge, and the spacing he provides the Grizzlies (hallelujah it’s about time) has given Zach Randolph and Ed Davis to score very efficiently in the paint.

It’s also worth pointing out that Lee is continuing to play and score at a high level that many said would not be sustainable. Perhaps he does eventually “come back down to earth,” but he’s been a natural fit for the Grizzlies and head coach Dave Joerger. Lee isn’t simply just padding his stats with a few hot shooting nights – he’s scored in double digits 15 of his 19 games with the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies front office already made one in-season deal trading for Courtney Lee. Now, they’re reportedly trying to move Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince for J.J. Barea and Chase Budinger. Do you think this deal ultimately goes down?

Jonathan: No way. That said, I think there are interesting nuggets of truth buried within that rumor. I think the Grizzlies are highly motivated to find a taker for Tayshaun “Clanks” Prince and are willing to package him with a more valuable piece (Ed Davis, Kosta Kofus or Tony Allen) if necessary. With some uncertainty about Marc Gasol’s knee, it would be difficult to trade either of your back-up big men, which makes TA the logical piece to shop. I also think the team has an academic interest in Budinger, though I can’t say he excites me. Barea makes sense if you embrace the “Grizzlies need a backup PG” narrative, but that is much less true now than it was 4 weeks ago, in light of the improved play of Nick Calathes.

Chris: I do believe the Grizzlies want to trade Prince and his hefty contract, and I think they might be willing to give up a big player to make that happen, but I don’t see them giving up Tony Allen just to swap Prince for Chase Budinger. He’s obviously got an age advantage on Prince, but he’s not the athletic SF that Memphis would give up key assets to acquire.

I’m imagining that Tony Allen’s name popped up in this rumor because of actions/requests by Minnesota, not Memphis. As far as J.J. Barea goes, with Mike Conley returning tonight and Nick Calathes proving he can excel in the NBA there’s not an urgent need for someone with his skill set.

The Grizzlies operate at the slowest pace in the NBA, but it works. Why does the team seem to play so much better with the style?

Jonathan: While Coach Joerger initially tried to pick up the pace from the previous regime, the early returns were disastrous and he quickly reverted back to the pace of the prior three years.This is a “personnel dictates the pace” scenario more than the other way around. Any team that emphasizes defense first while running its offense through two lumbering bigs is going to play at a slower pace. Also, playing defense the way the Grizzlies elect to play defense consumes a lot of energy and effort. It is a trade off, honestly. The Grizzlies are choosing to have fewer possessions – despite knowing they are not particularly efficient scoring the ball – in order to limit their opponents possessions. It is pretty effective, amazingly. High-octane offenses inevitably end up “in the mud” with the Grizzlies.

Chris: The Grizzlies strengths are still in their post game even with the rise of Mike Conley and the acquisition of fast, athletic players like Courtney Lee and James Johnson. The Grizzlies score most efficiently when they utilize most of the shot clock and look for multiple options in our through their paint presence. Defensively speaking, the slow pace works because they rebound so well (5th best rate in the NBA at 51.7% of missed shots rebounded) and gain advantage by giving teams fewer possessions than they’re used to working with. When you combine the math with the defensive intensity and persistence they have through a half-court set, it wears teams down and gets them out of rhythm. As long as Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are here, that’ll most likely be the game plan.

The Grizzlies appear to be a matchup nightmare for the Knicks on paper, but how would you go about attacking this Grizzlies team defensively and offensively?

Jonathan: I think the Spurs let the cat out of the bag about how to defend the Grizzlies during last year’s Western Conference Finals. The catch is, not many teams have the personnel to do it. You have to force Memphis to beat you from outside the paint by making life as difficult as your personnel permits for Randolph and Gasol. You have to match ZBo’s physical play, keep him off the blocks and make sure that he is getting the ball 12-15 feet from the rim rather than 6 feet from the rim. If Zach is going to kill you with 17-footers, you’re sunk anyways. With Gasol you have to pick your poison after gauging what kind of night he’s having. I’d let him shoot his elbow jumper before I’d let him pick you apart with passes from that spot. If he is hitting them, then you get physical with him and dare him to bring his game closer to the rim where he and Randolph sometimes get in each others way.

If I had a good answer for you about how to beat the Grizzlies’ defensive scheme, I’d probably be getting paid to write. My best advice is to hit open shots when they are there, because their aggressive defense often leaves a man open if you make enough passes. The teams that have the most consistent success against the Grizzlies are teams that hit 3s. Lord knows the Knicks have plenty of guys willing to take plenty of those. If they fall, the Knicks are going to be in good shape. I would caution against those skip passes that will look like they’re there when they’re not.

Chris: The easiest way to score on the Grizzlies is get a wing defender to overhelp on an athletic post presence. Gasol and Randolph will always receive help defense when matched up against anyone faster than Kendrick Perkins, and the aggressive nature of the Grizzlies makes it difficult for the defenders to recover to perimeter shooters. Nail your outside shots and you’ll often get the Grizzlies into trouble.

When the Grizzlies are on offense they’re usually looking to impose their will with physicality. Teams that can match that physicality have had a lot of success in getting the Grizzlies post game out of sync, and when that happens the whole ship usually falls apart.

Who ultimately wins tonight and why?

Jonathan: I expect the Grizzlies to win. This afternoon we got word that Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will both be in the starting lineup, something that hasn’t happened nearly as often as we’d expected this season. When the Grizzlies got hot and won 11-out-of-12 in January it was with those guys on the floor together. The Grizzlies also know they have no margin for error after losing a handful of games in the first 2 months of the season that may come back to haunt them. Winning home games against Eastern Conference opponents is on the “must do” list the rest of the way.

Chris: As a Grizzlies fan I feel pretty good about tonight. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol should return after extended rest, and how quickly they regain their legs and footing will play a huge role in the feel of tonight’s game. Players like Carmelo always scare me against the Grizzlies – they’ll either be held to 14 pts or go off for 45 pts, 30 of which come in one quarter. But ultimately I think the Grizzlies play at a high level in front of their home crowd and keep this game “in the mud,” as we’ve come to say in Memphis. Look for a low scoring finish, something resembling Grizzlies 93 – Knicks 89.