Tonight the Knicks take a victory lap at MSG, celebrating their first playoff berth since 2004 against the Raptors. These two teams haven’t met since December, but Toronto never seemed to have much of an answer for our heroes, losing all three games in rather convincing style. Can the Knicks make it a season sweep? Will both teams combine for 300 points? Can Reggie Evans set a record for most single-game rebounds without scoring a point? Let’s answer none of those questions right here, right now.
The Raptors may be playing shorthanded tonight: Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa are all game-time decisions with various maladies. If they’re all out, here’s who’s likely to get the starting nod.
PG – Jerryd Bayless: May be a potent enough penetrator to get Toney Douglas another start. Because, again, we’re the only team in the league that actually needs to change its starting lineup because we can’t defend opposing point guards. And if you’re wondering, no, I haven’t been a fan of the Chauncey Billups era. Why do you ask?
SG – DeMar DeRozan: Has combined with Bayless to score 99 points over the last two games.
SF – James Johnson: Acquired by Toronto from Chicago for a 2011 first-round pick (which had belonged to Miami). I continue to wonder why James Johnson was supposedly worth a lottery pick at the beginning of the season, but Wilson Chandler wasn’t. Also, Johnson is averaging a foul every seven minutes, which is about off the charts for a wing player. Enjoy, Carmelo.
PF – Amir Johnson: Another poor defender who’s worth about one foul per seven minutes. Enjoy, Amar’e.
C – Ed Davis: Needs to add weight even to play power forward, can’t put it on the floor and shoots 55% FT. And yet, I’m a fan. Check back in a year…or five. We may have something by then with Davis.
A Few Words on Alexis Ajinca: It says a lot about this player that I remember exactly what happened when he was drafted by the Bobcats in 2008: 1) David Stern announced his name, 2) everyone in America asked who the hell Alexis Ajinca was, 3) they showed a “highlight” of Alexis in which he fired a baby hook at the basket at about 85mph, then somehow got the offensive rebound and dunked it back home, and 4) we all wondered if that was the best basketball thing he’s ever done. Well, I’m proud to report that the Alexis Ajinca footage – really, the Zapruder film of basketball – is on YouTube here. It’s the first clip of the video; notice the backboard cowering in fear.
Raptors Rotation: Reggie Evans missed the Raps’ last two games against New York, but he was unstoppable on opening night, grabbing 16 rebounds in the first of what would be many night the Knicks made a journeyman look like Dennis Rodman. In Evans’ case, however, it was no fluke: he easily leads the league in rebound rate, grabbing 26.1% of all missed shots while he’s on the floor. If that’s not staggering enough, he averages a board every 2:15. Damn.
If Barbosa and Calderon are out, Toronto will have to make do with just three guards, the third being Sonny Weems. Joey Dorsey appears to get first crack at frontcourt minutes after Evans, over Ajinca and rookie center and former possible Knicks draft target Solomon Alabi. Should Melo get Johnson in foul trouble, I don’t see any other option than to dust off Julian Wright or Linas Kleiza. Ouch.
Mr. Big Shot: Looking forward, it would seem Chauncey Billups’ likely playoff defensive matchups include Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. Besides Chalmers, I see Billups getting exposed in each scenario: no one can guard Wade, of course, but Rondo would run circles around him while Allen would leave him so gassed from getting over screens he wouldn’t have enough energy to launch terrible threes. Actually, that sounds like a good thing.
The point is, I’m looking for Billups to get some rest over these next ten days and make a concerted effort on his defense. He can start tonight against Bayless and DeRozan. Like him or not – and I think you can tell where I stand – were going to need him and his defense.
The recipe for victory tonight is pretty simple: be aggressive, put the ball on the floor and get a poor defensive team in foul trouble. The Raptors are thin in the backcourt and foul-prone at Melo’s and Stoudemire’s positions. The Knicks need to hammer away at this group, and if they can get even one or two guys off the floor for protracted periods, Toronto – the worst three-point shooting team in the league, incidentally – shouldn’t have enough firepower to keep up. Still, this is a group that’s coming off a win over Orlando without Bargnani and Calderon, and any team seems capable of going off for the odd 130 points on the Knicks. We got a professional victory against Cleveland; now they have to take care of business once again, the way good teams do.
Enjoy the game if possible, and I will recap the absolute pants off this thing later tonight.