Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks @ Memphis Grizzlies (8:00 PM ET): Preview and Prediction

Tonight, the Knicks travel to Memphis to take on the Grizzlies in what will be New York’s first game post-All-Star break. Here’s what I’ll be watching for:

Start of a second half push?: At 20-32, New York just might be the NBA’s biggest disappointment of the 2013-14 season. But, in the lowly Eastern Conference, that’s still good enough for tenth place and only two-and-a-half games short of the eighth seed.

If the Knicks hope to make a playoff push and somehow avoid both the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers in the first round, they need to start winning games and winning games now. A victory tonight could serve as a much-needed jump-start to the second half of the season.

Smith’s return: J.R. Smith missed last Wednesday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with a fractured cheekbone, but he will be active tonight. Before the injury, Smith was playing the best he had all season long–in nine games from January 24 to February 9, he averaged over 17 points on 48 percent shooting from the field and 48 percent from beyond the arc.

Shumpert, Hardaway Jr on the way out?: As was the case on several occasions earlier this season, the Knicks are rumored to be in trade talks for an upgrade at point guard. This time, the Knicks are said to be interested in Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and (once again) Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo.

Aside from already inquiring about Rondo earlier this year, the Knicks were also previously interested in Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors. It has become crystal clear that the organization is not satisfied with Raymond Felton–who, granted, is having a dreadful season–filling the starting point guard spot.

As per usual with these trade talks, the Knicks would have to be willing to part with at least one (but possibly both) of their talented young shooting guards–Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert–if they wish to get a deal done.

Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how Hardaway Jr. and Shumpert approach tonight’s game, which–though highly unlikely–could be the final game that either wears a Knicks uniform.

Prediction: Memphis Grizzlies 98, New York Knicks 89

While the Knicks have continued to struggle, the Grizzlies have used 2014 to turn around their season. Since the turn of the calendar year, Memphis is 16-6 and New York is 11-11, with five of those 11 losses coming in February.

Translation: These two teams are heading in opposite directions, and I expect tonight’s game to be proof of that, with the Knicks losing for the sixth time in seven tries.

Tags: Carmelo Anthony J.R. Smith New York Knicks

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