Amid swirling rumors of trades, gripes over playing time, secret surgeries, and meddlesome ownership, the New York Knicks still have games to play.
And those games are still quite important. The Knicks are a lowly 3-6, and starting next week they will take on a tough road trip to the wild West. Before doing so, however, the Knicks have a chance to make up some ground they lost last week. Here’s a look at what awaits the orange and blue this week.
Tuesday 11/19 at Detroit Pistons -
aka The Twitter Clash
It seems like only last week when J.R. Smith and Brandon Jennings made headlines for engaging in one of the most meaningless, hilarious Twitter debates (some call it a “beef”). Brandon Jennings doesn’t think Chris Smith deserves a roster spot, J.R. doesn’t like “subtweets”, Chris Smith keeps it class by not engaging, Brandon Jennings continues to subtweet, J.R. threatens to send his boys up to Detroit to tech Brandon a lesson, presumably.
Smith was fined $25,000 for his tweet, deemed violent and threatening (which it certainly was). Both players downplayed the whole event with the media later, but I’m sure it will be in the back of both of their minds when they face each other Tuesday night.
Chris Herring presented this little nugget in his latest piece: J.R. Smith has had 12 games since the start of last season in which he’s shot less than 30% on 15 or more field goal attempts. The only two players who have done it more than J.R.: James Harden and BRANDON JENNINGS! If Tuesday night doesn’t turn into some kind of gun-slinging shootoff between the two, their Twitter beef will be rendered illegitimate. This can’t happen.
And if the Knicks don’t take advantage of the 3-6 Pistons who are the worst defensive team in the NBA (30th in defensive rating), then it will be a lost game. The Pistons score pretty efficiently, but the Knicks’ only real hope to win games is to out-shoot their opponents, and a game against the Pistons beckons that.
Wednesday 11/20 vs. Indiana Pacers
Is there a more frightening team, more loathsome than the Indiana Pacers right now? The Miami Heat are up there, but their rivalry-that-never-was with the Knicks has faded. The Pacers, on the other hand, sent the Knicks packing in the playoffs last season. They play rough, they boast and brag, and moreover, they punish the Knicks by doing everything well that New York doesn’t. And now, this season, they’ve been the best team in the NBA.
The Knicks will be 3-7 or 4-6 when they enter Wednesday’s game. It’s not the marquee matchup it could be (or was likely expected to be), but nonetheless, facing the Pacers at home feels like a big game. There’s a sense in the back of my head that these Knicks think they’re better than they are, and thus, aren’t getting up to play opponents they deem lesser. However, then they’ve also put up big performances — or at least competitive — in games against teams like the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets.
The Pacers are the superior team in just about every category — more efficient on offense and defense, better at rebounding and passing. They turn the ball over more often than the Knicks and don’t defend the three-pointer that well (a surprising regression from last season), but those are the only weaknesses for the Knicks to exploit.
Moreover, I’m interested to see if Mike Woodson learned anything from last year’s playoff series. Tyson Chandler obviously won’t be around, but the Knicks just can’t go big against the Pacers. Andrea Bargnani was acquired with the Pacers’ series in mind — will Woodson use him to spread the court and take Roy Hibbert away from the basket? Can the Knicks put together enough defense to stop the Pacers who are vastly improved on that end of the court? I’m anxious to see.
Saturday 11/23 at Washington Wizards
The 2-7 Wizards present another opportunity for the Knicks to close a 2-1 week. New York blew the chance to do such a thing this past Saturday by failing to show up for a second game against the Atlanta Hawks. Seriously, how much better would fans feel about this team at 4-5 instead of 3-6, coming off a 2-1 week instead of 1-2?
Detroit is a winnable game as is Washington. The Wizards are in the lower half of the NBA in defensive rating and they’re even worse on offense than the Knicks. They possess a speedy, talented back-court in John Wall and Bradley Beal that could give the Knicks problems, but otherwise, they don’t do many things very well. The Knicks are a more talented ball club, and there aren’t many advantages on the Wizards’ side.
Picking up a second win of the week would be so crucial for New York before they travel to Portland and Los Angeles to face the Blazers and Clippers who have a combined 15-5 record. Win the games you should and tread water until Tyson Chandler comes back.
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