2012 Game Preview – 76ers @ Knicks

After three straight victories, the Knicks look to continue their winning ways against the Atlantic Division leading Philadelphia 76ers. With the season shortened to 66 games, these division matchups become even more pivotal. The two teams split the regular season series last year 2-2 with the Knicks coming away with the final two meetings.

The Lowdown – The Knicks may have caught a bit of a break in this game. The 76ers are playing their last game in a back-to-back-to-back series. The Knicks will begin a three games in four nights stint. The Knicks have won three in a row, and are giving up only 87.7 points per game during that stretch. In fact the team currently has a defensive rating of 102.0, good enough to place them in the top half of the league (14th). The 76ers are winners of their last six, and with a win over the Knicks they will have their longest win streak since Jan 6-17, 2009.

The Sixers have five guys averaging over double figures points per game in Lou Williams, Jrue Holliday, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes. They rank 1st in SRS (Simple Rating System) which takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule. In the same category, the Knicks rank 23rd. The Sixers also rank 1st in defensive rating and 3rd in offensive rating. They win with their balance and depth on offense, as well as their ferocity on defense.

Key Matchup – Carmelo Anthony vs. Andre Iguodala – In Melo’s career he has averaged 26.4 points per game while shooting 54.7% ts% against Iguodala. Iggy is a strong defender with quick hands and respectable lateral movement. I would love to see Melo play more bully ball and not settle for jumpers. He outweighs Iggy by 23 pounds and a double team should be administered immediately by Doug Collins every time Melo catches it down low. Such a double team should improve Anthony’s ability to find his teammates for easy scores. Melo’s assist percentage this year is 27.5%, which leads the team. I’ve been impressed with his willingness to hit the open man this year instead of forcing shots.

X-Factor – Tyson Chandler. Chandler’s offensive rating is 152 and defensive rating is 99, both team highs. He’s the biggest reason why the Knicks are 14th in defensive rating as a whole. Defending the rim is key, as teams will look to attack the defensive ineptitude of Melo and Stoudemire. The Sixers run the pick and roll often, featuring versatile big men rolling off the pick. Chandler will have to communicate effectively for the Knicks to cover the P & R.

This is an early season statement game, the Knicks have to come out with an overload of fire and desire on both ends of the floor. I had to throw some sort of Clydeism somewhere!

Knicks fend off feisty ‘Cats; surging Sixers up

In the universe of ugly wins, Monday’s 91-87 victory over Charlotte – the two’s second MSG showdown in just five days – might most aptly described as a black hole.

Not merely because the two squads combined to shoot just 40% from the field. Not simply because, when viewed from a certain — read: every — angle, Boris Diaw looks like he could eat planets.

Rather, the qualifier fits what many of us feared an Stoudemire-Anthony template could present, namely an offense centered around two ball-stoppers whose tunnel-vision tendencies risk short-circuiting offensive continuity.

Thus, despite going a combined 13-43 from the floor, Stat and Melo’s unnerving off nights weren’t enough to derail a much-needed home victory over a team which had less than a week before flat-out embarrassed the Knicks on the very same floor, summoning a series of boos as off-putting to those watching at home as it must have been for the players themselves.

In his first Garden start, rookie Iman Shumpert continued to show why Donnie Walsh’s decision to take the former Georgia Tech Yellowjacket with the 17th pick in last June’s Draft might finally be appreciated for the sterling parting gift it seems.

While more solid than superlative, Shumpert’s stat line (16 points on 7-13 shooting, four rebounds, six assists, and three steals – all of which were converted to breakaway dunks) belied a presence, charisma, and lock-stock confidence not seen in a Knick rookie since Brooklyn’s own Mark Jackson – the 17th selection in the ’87 draft – was burning up the Garden parquet nearly a quarter century ago.

Call it “tamed cockiness.” Call it Stoudemire-grade swag. Call it a Draft night shoulder chip not yet shrugged, where each bead of sweat marks one boo exercised. Whatever “it” is, Iman Shumpert – small sample size be damned – seems to have it.

While the outcome was mercifully different from what transpired last Wednesday, there were some notable déjà vu moments, highlighted by yet another Boris Diaw vintage performance (19 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists on 8-12 shooting). Though somewhat improved, the defensive rotations were at times spotty and frazzled, leading to another effective perimeter performance (7-19 from yonder) for the ‘Cats.

Far more depressing and deflating than Diaw’s encore performance, however, was the continued deterioration – statistically as well as emotionally – of Toney Douglas. After a mixed-bag start to the season, the last three games have seen TD’s productivity utterly hemorhhage (two points, two rebounds, and zero assists in that stretch).

Whether the product of a Shumpert-induced deficit of confidence, a nagging shoulder injury, or both, Douglas clearly needs either time or talk to get his head straight. Leading as he is a bench that produced a measly three points in last night’s contest, Douglas desperately needs to rediscover the flare that helped make him one of the more potent off-the-bench weapons in the league last year. How that happens is anyone’s guess, at this point.

Landry Fields, meanwhile, put up a passable — if unspectacular — line of five points, six rebounds, and five assists in 37 minutes. Like Douglas, Fields has fluctuated between tentative (at the very least) and being a downright liability for most of the season. Regardless of whether Baron Davis’ late January return makes Landry’s ultimate move to the bench a forgone conclusion, the Knicks will need Fields to at least flirt with last season’s now seemingly fool’s gold productivity — even in spurts — if their depth is to be anything close to what will be needed for a postseason run.

Aside from Shumpert, the most welcomed improvement over last week’s loss came in the form of a suddenly stride-catching Tyson Chandler. Held to just 11 points and six ‘bounds a week ago, Chandler exploded for 22 points (including a bonkers 95% TS%), 13 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks – with at least a couple of the final two coming at key intervals down the stretch to help keep the Bobcats at bay.

Despite their equally vacuous offensive showings, Melo and Stat still shone a silver lining or two. After tweaking his back late in Saturday’s blowout win over the Pistons, Melo’s 39 minutes proved the injury shouldn’t be much to worry about over the long haul. Meanwhile, Stoudemire, who forced a number of bullying stumbles towards the basket (and managed to pick up his third technical foul of the young season), grabbed exactly twelve rebounds for the third time in four games – a positive harbinger if ever there was one.

Now over .500 for the first time since Christmas, the ‘Bockers will have another day’s rest before lacing up for key early season showdown against the Atlantic leading and revitalized 76ers on Wednesday. The two teams split last season’s four game series, with the Knicks losing the first two before snagging two Ws from the hobbled Sixers down the stretch.

At 6-2, Philly currently boasts the largest point differential (a whopping 14.6) in the NBA, having held their opponents to a league low 85.6ppg. Granted, their schedule hasn’t been that much tougher than that of the Knicks. Still, the orange blue will clearly have their work cut out for them, in what promises to be a telling early season litmus test for exactly how far this still coalescing squad has come, and has yet to go.