“I Do This.” These were the last words Memphis Grizzlies players heard as they sulked off the court with their heads hanging low one week ago. It was New York’s highest point of the season; a moment within a game that came damn close to completely validating trading three core players for one superstar. Things were good then. People were giddy.
My, how a week’s time can change everything. So it would turn out, since Carmelo deposited that game winning jumper deep into the eye of Trick or Treat Tony Allen, the Knicks haven’t given their fans an ounce of reason to celebrate. The loss to Dallas was upsetting yet understandable—the Mavericks are one of the most talented, deep, composed teams in the league, and to face them in their building on the second night of a back to back is begging for demolition—but falling in back to back games against the Pacers? Giving up 59 points to Tyler Hansbrough? Let’s hold the phone on that one.
Tonight, a symbol of hopeful happiness enters Madison Square Garden with a record of 37-31. Clinging to a two game lead on Utah for the eighth seed in the west, look for the Grizzlies to match the Knicks intensity level—New York should be fuming after those two Indiana related debacles.
PG—Mike Conley Jr.: With Toney Douglas covering him in the last go, Conley was beautiful, scoring 20 points on 7-13 shooting with six dimes. Not sure that happens tonight.
SG—Tony Allen: Trick or Treat’s been on a little hot streak this month, lighting up the Thunder and dropping 22 on the Knicks last week. Defensive is his specialty, though, and look for him to guard Carmelo on the late possessions that matter.
SF—Sam Young: A likely starter…should be the third or fourth guy off their bench.
PF—Zach Randolph: Words can’t describe how far Randolph has come since his days as a Knick. Right now he’s their most valuable player and should see a high usage rate against New York’s weak front court.
C—Marc Gasol: Keep your eye on the younger Gasol brother. A restricted free agent next season, he’s exactly what the Knicks need to take that next step. Tomorrow night he should pose a major problem.
Rotation: OJ Mayo’s coming off a terrible shooting performance in their win against the Clippers two nights ago, but Memphis’ most notable bench asset is Shane Battier. Fortunately for the Knicks, in the nine games since returning to the Grizzlies Battier has played the worst offensive basketball of his career. Also, look for the lanky Darrell Arthur to create a few problems. (If the gym’s janitor were lanky, I’d say the Knicks need to worry about him, too.)
New York Starters:
PG—Chauncey Billups: Right now he’s easing his way back into the swimming pool. Not sure what you can expect from Billups at this point; let him find his legs a little bit before pointing at a falling sky.
SG—Landry Fields: Last week against Memphis he went 7-8 for 16 points with six rebounds and six assists; the rook defines consistency.
SF—Carmelo Anthony: I don’t think Memphis is looking forward to seeing Carmelo tonight. To put it appropriately: “He Does This.”
PF—Amar’e Stoudemire: This season he’s shooting 48.5% on the road and 54% at home, but he’ll have his hands full against a beefy Memphis front line that’ll look to get him in foul trouble.
C—Shawne Williams: He’s started over Ronny Turiaf/Jared Jeffries these past couple of games, and his shooting has not wavered. But I’m not sure how much I like having him get reps in the starting lineup when come playoff time he’ll be used as offensive firepower off the bench.
Rotation: Toney Douglas has been playing the nicest basketball of his career over these past few weeks. I’m not sure he could consistently contribute for somebody as a starter, or if his role as Knicks backup is more appropriate, but regardless I’m feeling more confident with him running the offense than ever before. Elsewhere the defensive play of Jeffries and Turiaf will be huge tonight; the Knicks will probably need all 12 of those fouls.
Overview: The Grizzlies still don’t have Rudy Gay, their best player, but remain one of the feistier teams out west. The key matchup in this one—as it is in almost every Knicks game—will be Amar’e and whoever starts beside him against Randolph, Gasol, and Arthur. The Knicks did a pretty good job last time on the boards (winning the battle 31-30) and if they want to get the same victorious result they’ll be sure to focus in on that department one more time. Defensively New York has been atrocious these past few games. Abysmal in every aspect. The Grizzlies will surely look to exploit down low all night long. New York, on the other hand, has Carmelo Anthony. As good as Shane Battier is on the defensive end, at 32 he’s losing a step. And Tony Allen’s too small. With no capable defenders able to slow him down, Anthony is clearly the great offensive advantage. So it goes with New York, if they can string together a few stretches of capable defense, Memphis shouldn’t be a problem.