Let’s have a look at what I was saying in this space just last week, shall we?
If the Knicks are who we think they are, who they think they are, they need to go 3-0 this week.
Ah, when the season was young, the team healthy, still bright-eyed, full of potential, having lost only two games, unfortunately, but somewhat understandably.
A week later things look even more gloomy. The New York Knicks capped off a week when they should have at least finished 2-1 by taking a 30-point stomping from the San Antonio Spurs. The Knicks were competitive for almost none of those 48 minutes, displaying, perhaps, their worst showing in the Mike Woodson era. Is that too dramatic? Perhaps. Nonetheless, anyone who watched the game saw the Knicks get ripped apart by the mechanical precision of the Spurs saw a team that looked disinterested, uncompetitive, ill-fitting of any “contender” talk. The Spurs swung the ball effectively side-to-side, inside and out, getting exactly what they wanted on offense. On defense, they stifled Carmelo Anthony, sending at least two long-winged, harassing defenders his way on each touch, forcing him to ditch the ball to groups of unwilling, incapable teammates. The two teams looked to be in entirely different classes yesterday — a far contrast from the 2012-13 New York Knicks who swept the Spurs in the season series.
Would two wins against the Charlotte Bobcats last week have made things better? A little, yes. The Knicks would be 3-3, and furthermore, their losses would have come to the Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Spurs — three good teams. The Knicks should have beaten either the Wolves or Spurs in MSG, but at least those losses are reasonable. But the Knicks fell to an improved, but still-lowly Bobcats team on Tuesday night, losing Tyson Chandler in the process.
Now, this week, the Knicks face further, serious challenges to try and just stay afloat in the Eastern Conference.
New York Knicks at Atlanta Hawks – Wednesday, 11/13, New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks – Saturday, 11/16
Coming into the season, the Eastern Conference was grouped into two categories: the top five teams — Miami, Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn, and New York — who could all challenge for conference supremacy, and the also-rans — the rest of the conference who would battle for the final three spots in the playoffs.
As the season has started, the Knicks look more and more like a team in the latter category, competing for those final spots. The Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, who are presumed to be in that same category, are actually 4th in the East. Every game is a test for the Knicks right now, but two matchups with the Hawks this week seem like real tests — can the Knicks hang with a solid, if unspectacular playoff team?
Defensively, the Knicks are better than the Hawks, sitting 18th in defensive rating to Atlanta’s 24th ranking. Yet, that end of the floor has been so hot and cold for New York, nobody is sure who will show up. This is especially true when considering that the Hawks are one of the better offensive teams early in the year, ranking 6th in offensive rating. There is no real trend to be found for when the Knicks’ defense does and doesn’t show up. The Bulls, Wolves, Bobcats, and Spurs are all scattered across the league in the offensive rating, yet the Knicks lost to all four.
The contests may come down to two factors: rebounding and three-point shooting. The Hawks shoot the three-pointer far better than the Knicks — 36% to 32.4%, respectively. However, the Knicks still possess several players with the ability to get hot from downtown, thus making them threats beyond the arc each night. In turn, the Hawks are one of the worst teams in the league at defending the three-ball.
When it comes to rebounding, both teams rank in the bottom half of the league in cleaning the glass. The Hawks are 25th in rebound percentage, while the Knicks are 28th. The Hawks, however, are the second best defensive rebounding team in the league. Given the Knicks’ dysfunctional offense, they need to attack the glass on offense to create more opportunities. In addition, the Hawks are a very poor offensive rebounding team, so the Knicks need to limit their opportunities for second-chance points.
Basically, these are two very even teams, and the winner of their two contests this week could come down to just a difference in three-point shooting or rebounds.
New York Knicks vs. Houston Rockets – Thursday, 11/14
How disastrously could Thursday’s matchup with the Houston Rockets go? Consider these options:
- The Knicks lost to these Rockets (sans Dwight Howard) last season by an average of 20 points in 2012-13.
- The Knicks will rely on some combo of Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Kenyon Martin to guard Dwight Howard in the post.
- The Rockets lead the league in free throw attempts per game at 38 per. The Knicks are the fourth worst team in allowing opponent free throw attempts, averaging 28.5 per game.
- The Rockets are second in the league in rebound %. The Knicks’ are seventh in opponent rebounds per game.
- Some combination of Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, and J.R. Smith will have to cover James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Patrick Beverly.
Basically, things could go really bad this Thursday night on national TV. The Rockets are an elite team, and one that has a simply superior, sounder structure than the Knicks. They’re a team whose strengths are the Knicks weaknesses (which, lately, seems like everything).
Truth be told, the Knicks aren’t winning this one, unless they somehow: a.) figure out a way to stop Dwight Howard, b.) James Harden has a cold game, c.) the Knicks shoot the nylon off of the rims. Prepare yourselves.
But, hey — Jeremy Lin back at MSG!
Follow Scott Davis on Twitter.