PG – Deron Williams: The Knicks have had trouble defending the pick and roll this year, and few do it better than Williams.
SG – Raja Bell: Not much has changed over the years. Still defending, still shooting threes, still not doing much else.
SF – Andrei Kirilenko: Has missed only two games this year; may have lost half a step on defense but has compensated by becoming a semi-reliable three-point shooter (37%).
PF – Paul Millsap: Going for career bests in just about everything, including usage rate and turnover rate. Has also improved as a foul shooter.
C – Al Jefferson: Much like last night with Camby and Aldridge, Ronny Turiaf will have to keep Jefferson off the boards, and try to contain his post offense.
One Matchup to Like: Amar’e Stoudemire against the Utah frontcourt. There doesn’t appear to be a Joel Anthony or Jeff Foster type on this team to consistently give Stoudemire trouble. Amar’e ought to be able to overwhelm or simply shoot over the smaller Millsap, and Jefferson is susceptible to the drive.
One Matchup to Hate: Raymond Felton against Williams. There are few point guards who can match both strength and quickness with Felton, and this is one of them. Not to mention Felton may be a little banged up after tweaking his ankle last night – this will be a matchup to keep an eye on in the early going. If Felton becomes a defensive liability, it may be a long night.
Jazz Injury Watch: Mehmet Okur is a game time decision for Utah tonight as he recovers from a back injury. Okur missed nearly the first two months of the season recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in the first game of last year’s postseason, and promptly injured his back shortly after his return. If Okur plays, he’s the kind of floor spacing big that has given the Knicks trouble; he’ll suck Turiaf or Stoudemire away from the hoop and put even more of the rebounding onus on the likes of Landry Fields.
A Few Good Sentences on: Toney Douglas, our faithful backup point (?) guard. Much has been made of his perceived lack of improvement this season in all phases of the offense. Allow me a few words of encouragement. Let’s remember that last year Douglas far outperformed his collegiate shooting numbers. Let’s also remember that despite the same coaching staff, this team runs a much different offense with a good deal of new faces, and to expect a second-year player – who may not be a true point guard to begin with – to orchestrate at such a frenetic pace may be asking too much. Finally, let’s remember that Douglas is still bothered by a nagging shoulder injury, and has taken to wearing what looks like a ripped t-shirt under his jersey that makes him look like a black Action from West Side Story.
The defense is still there. The point guard play, to my eye, has improved marginally the last three weeks. He’s also hit 12 of his last 24 three-pointers. As for that floater he put up last night…well, it did get all net, in its own way.
Tip of the Cap: To the whole Jazz team. Look at this roster – leave it to Utah to put together such a classy bunch!
Utah has played at least 11 guys in their last five games, but C.J. Miles is the only guy really logging heavy minutes off the bench. The Knicks will need to be versatile, however, as Jerry Sloan is going to give cameo appearances to Ronnie Price (their Toney Douglas, more or less) and Gordon Heyward. He’ll also complement the frontcourt with Kyrylo Fesenko, who will clog the middle, and Francisco Elson, who has a little more mobility to step out in defense of a high screen.
Last night the Knicks avoided the very sticky situation of having to go into Utah needing a win on a back-to-back to salvage their road trip. A win here is yet another thread sown into the “Excuse us, but we don’t suck anymore!” banner. Let’s show the Jazz that nice guys finish last…because, you know, we’re from New York, and apparently we’re never nice to anybody.