The New York Knicks are coming off of (stop me if this sounds familiar) another disappointing loss this Saturday. Once again, the Knicks spotted their opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies, a big lead, played poorly, and then in the final minutes, decided to play hard, efficiently, but came up short. Another loss like that has to put some people on the hot seat, particularly Mike Woodson, but it feels like the Knicks’ front office could decide to look into some more trades. Player comments are becoming increasingly more depressing as they’ve run out of excuses and ways to say they need to keep their heads up and play harder.
All of this is to say, it feels as though this coming week is a big one. Here’s a look at the schedule:
Monday 12/23 at Orlando Magic
The Knicks’ last feel-good win came in a 30-point thrashing to the Orlando Magic earlier in December. It seems like ages ago when the Knicks realized that good ball movement, consistent rhythm, and unselfishness could get them easy shots and allow them to take one of those rarely seen “leads.”
The Magic have struggled lately, losing eight of their last ten games. They still have a talented squad and a handful of youngsters like Victor Oladipo, Mo Harkless, and Nikola Vucevic who can give the Knicks problems, but the Knicks, even when beaten up by injuries, have the better roster.
A key to beating the Magic: hit three-pointers. Orlando is one of the worst teams in the league at defending the arc, allowing opponents to shoot 37.7% from downtown this season.
Wednesday 12/25 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Yuletide Battle! The Knicks haven’t played in Madison Square Garden on Christmas since a victory over the Boston Celtics to kick off the shortened 2011-12 season. Last year’s Christmas game was something of a nighmare as the Knicks — who were a lot better than this year’s rendition — couldn’t find a way to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Staples Center.
Basically, the Knicks have no right winning this game this year. The Thunder are 22-5, 9-1 in their last ten games, and a far more talented group. Nonetheless, the Knicks played them competitively last season, going 1-1, winning on each other’s home courts, so perhaps a little Christmas Day miracle is in store.
The matchup to watch is Carmelo Anthony vs. Kevin Durant, but the game will actually be won elsewhere. The Thunder’s backcourt, featuring Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson could terrorize New York’s guards, and the Thunder big men, particularly Serge Ibaka will give Tyson Chandler a handful underneath.
The Thunder are a top offensive and defensive team, so there’s very little room for error for the Knicks. The Thunder, however, are a turnover prone team, ranking fourth worst in the NBA with 16 per game. The Knicks excel at forcing turnovers, so perhaps they can thrive off some easy baskets.
Friday 12/27 vs. Toronto, Saturday 12/28 at Toronto
Who could have guessed in, say, October, that the Knicks would be trailing the Toronto Raptors in the standings? The funny thing is the Raptors are in full tank mode. They traded Rudy Gay, they’re shopping Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. This team does not want to be competitive. Does that mean they’ll overtly lose games? No. The Knicks still have to play hard and win, but the Raptors’ front office is trying to rid this team of talent that won’t be there for the long haul.
At 11-14, the Raptors are leading the Atlantic Division. You read that correctly. They’re a fairly inept offensive team, but they possess a top-10 defense. Oddly, though, the Raptors are among the worst teams in the league in opponent field goal percentages, both from two and three. Where the Raptors can hurt teams is in turnovers and fast breaks, as Toronto is among the leaders in forcing turnovers.
With all of this said, it’ll be interesting how Toronto keeps approaching games as the season goes on. Last night, they blew out the Thunder in Oklahoma City. Are they going to keep actively trying to win games? The players and coaches certainly want to. The Knicks have to at least win one of these games.
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