This season, Buckets Over Broadway will be introducing weekly previews where we will examine the week ahead, starting from Monday to Sunday. Yes, we know the week actually begins on Sunday, but no one thinks of it that way. We’ll take a look at games ahead, team news, trends, and anything Knicks. Welcome to the first preview!
You smell that, basketball fans? Can you feel it? It’s almost here. Tomorrow night, NBA basketball will return. And the following night, Wednesday, the New York Knicks will break the seal, officially (preseason doesn’t count) on the newly furnished Madison Square Garden. The Milwaukee Bucks aren’t the most riveting team to play on opening night, but nonetheless, it’s a season-opener against a beatable team — we’ll take it.
The Knicks finished their preseason with a pretty meager 2-5 record. The team never got to play their assumed rotation players all in one sitting — injuries kept most of the key cogs on the bench. Thus, it was difficult to judge what, exactly, this team will look like. Throw in the extended minutes for the training camp invites, and the players that figure to play a majority of the minutes (mostly) didn’t get their typical spin. There were some things to like about the team — their offense, at times, looked dynamic, there’s so much depth to the team that there’s a bevy of options for Mike Woodson to go to. However, there were troubling bits, too, like an overall lack of urgency on defense (granted, it was preseason), and, of course, the injuries that kept the team from taking the court as one.
With what we saw in preseason, let’s take a look at the week ahead:
10/30 – vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Knicks faced the Bucks during preseason, but much like the Knicks themselves, the Bucks were missing several key players like Brandon Knight, Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova, and Ekpe Udoh. The Bucks reshaped their team quite a bit this year, trading Brandon Jennings to Detroit in exchange for Knight and a few other bench players. They also ended the Monta Ellis experiment, traded J.J. Redick, and in exchange, brought in Caron Butler, Gary Neal, and OJ Mayo, who figures to be their new leader.
The Bucks figure to be a team that can be a thorn in the side of other teams, but they don’t quite have the talent to be true playoff contenders. Nonetheless, catching them on the right night could spell trouble, as the Knicks saw last week in Green Bay. OJ Mayo is a skilled, if inconsistent offensive player, but he can get hot quickly; Gary Neal’s shot-launching ways can quickly cause problems if he makes a few; Ilyasova is a versatile, underrated big man who has historically hurt the Knicks. And there’s also Larry Sanders lurking around the basket, smacking the ball out of the air. Basically, this Bucks team has talent, but only when each player performs to his potential.
It’s possible to write off the Knicks’ lackadaisical preseason to just that: preseason. However, come Wednesday night, even the lowliest of opponents cannot be taken lightly. In the second half of their loss to Milwaukee, the Knicks actually began competing, hustling on defense, executing on offense — but it was too late as Milwaukee was already in their zone. The hope for these Knicks is that when the games begin to matter, they can flip the switch. If that’s so, certainly don’t expect the Knicks to allow 105 points to a Bucks team that will likely struggle to score the ball.
10/31 – at Chicago Bulls
The first real test of the season, and it’s tough to think of a better team to measure up with. The Bulls had a terrific, 8-0 preseason, but they’re a still bit of an unknown. They’ve made noise throughout the last three regular seasons, but for a team that’s considered elite, they’ve only advanced past the second round once. Last year, they were a feisty bunch that swept their season series with the Knicks. This year, they’ve changed some of their role players, but their core is in tact and Derrick Rose has returned.
The Bulls are the model team the Knicks have to figure out how to beat. They play a slow, grinding, defensive style that doesn’t suit the Knicks. Similarly, Derrick Rose is the type of speedy guard that could run the Knicks’ guards in circles, and the trio of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, and Taj Gibson could bully the Knicks into submission on the boards. If the Knicks want to make a statement early and prove they are indeed contenders in the East, almost nothing would do that better than beating Chicago. And it’s possible. The Bulls lack the Knicks’ depth, and despite the return of Rose, they’ll still lack the offensive firepower of the Knicks. If New York can dictate the pace and style of the game, they’ve got a shot to win, even if it means shutting down the rest of the Bulls roster while Rose goes for 40.
11/3 – vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
There are basically no cakewalk games in the Western Conference this year, and a healthy Minnesota squad is no different. The Wolves have assembled a truly talented roster, and with a bit of luck, hopefully they’ll stay healthy enough this year to contend for the playoffs. The Knicks split the season series with the Wolves last year, but that was a different team. The return of Kevin Love and the addition of Kevin Martin can make the Wolves a very tough outing for the Knicks. Need I recall Kevin Love’s absurd 30-30 game against the Knicks in 2010?
Nonetheless, if the Knicks are supposed to be as good as they/we believe, winning these games is a necessity. The Wolves are a solid playoff team, but the Knicks have the better team and will be playing at home. A 50-win season includes tough, but winnable games like this one, and a poor showing from the Knicks this early wouldn’t be a good sign.
What to Watch For:
- Amar’e Stoudemire’s minutes. Mike Woodson said STAT may begin playing 10 a night, and he supposedly won’t play back-to-backs, so that would rule him out of the Chicago game. How much will we really see of Stoudemire?
- Andrea Bargnani’s role. Woodson also hinted that Bargnani might not be the go-to starter every game, depending on the size of the team. The Bulls and Wolves both boast big front-courts, but Bargnani isn’t exactly the best match-up for Boozer, Gibson, or Love.
- Turnovers. The Knicks were the best team in the NBA at taking care of the ball last year, but through preseason, they were pretty sloppy. Will that change come Wednesday?
I recall a mic’d up segment from 2010 when Mike D’Antoni was head coach: he was in the locker room, just before the 2010-11 Knicks were going to take the floor for their season debut at MSG. He told them to cherish it, because you don’t get many opportunities to open the season in front of an excited home crowd, which following ten years of lottery seasons, fans were certainly excited for the Amar’e-led, new-look Knicks. I plan on doing the same this year. Nobody knows how good (or not) this Knicks team will be yet, but they’re an exciting, talented team on paper, and they’re uncapping a fresh season at home. Let’s enjoy it.
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