Where: Madison Square Garden - New York, NY
When: 5:30PM (AZ)
Watch: FSAZ (locally), NBA League Pass
Read: See things from the other side over at Posting and Toasting
A struggling Phoenix Suns team takes its road show to New York City for its first meeting of the season with a resurgent New York Knicks squad looking to climb their way back into the playoffs. Despite their meager 14-22 record, the Knicks are only half a game out of the 8 seed in the putrid Eastern Conference and four and half games out of first place in the Atlantic Division. The Knicks have notched impressive wins over the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs and the only blemish in their last 6 games is a 2-point loss to the
Dallas Mavericks Houston Rockets. As it stands, the Knicks are riding a four game win streak and look to make it five against the hobbled Suns.
At 21-15, the Suns are treading water in seventh place in the Western Conference. The Suns have lost two in a row and four of six since losing starting point guard Eric Bledsoe to a torn meniscus in his right knee. Without Bledsoe, the Suns have stagnated on offense, relying on 3-pointers and jump shots without their leading finisher in the lane. While this road trip was originally cast as a time for the Suns to feast on weaker Eastern Conference foes, it has now become a grueling slog against bigger, slower opponents that are giving the Suns fits.
Phoenix Suns: Offensive Rating (107.8), Defensive Rating (105.2)
New York Knicks: Offensive Rating (104.7), Defensive Rating (107.7)
|Tim Hardaway Jr.||35||18.6||3.0||6.6||45.9||1.3||3.3||40.4||1.0||1.2||82.9||0.2||1.1||1.3||0.9||0.6||0.5||0.2||1.2||8.3|
|Metta World Peace||23||15.0||2.2||5.6||39.8||0.6||2.0||29.8||0.4||0.6||71.4||0.7||1.5||2.1||0.7||0.6||1.0||0.3||1.7||5.5|
Probable Starting Line-Ups
F - Carmelo Anthony
F - Kenyon Martin
F - Andrea Bargnani
G - Raymond Felton
G - Iman Shumpert
F - P.J. Tucker
F - Channing Frye
C - Miles Plumlee
G - Gerald Green
G - Goran Dragić
Suns: Eric Bledsoe - Out (Knee)
Knicks: Tyson Chandler - Questionable (Upper Respiratory Infection), Beno Udrih - Questionable (Knee), Pablo Prigioni - Out (Toe), Metta World Peace - Out (Toe)
Keys to the Game:
Push the Tempo: Without Bledsoe, the Suns have been flummoxed by teams that slow the game down and prevent the Suns from getting point in transition. Enter the New York Knicks, the second slowest team in the league at a plodding 90.2 possessions per game. The Suns' offense gets more discombobulated the slower the game gets. If the Suns can run on the Knicks, their odds of victory improve considerably.
Crash the Glass: It's beginning to sound like a broken record, but the Suns have been getting hammered on the boards of late. In their last 2 games, both losses, the Suns have been outrebounded 112-89. The Knicks are not an elite-rebounding team, but they are above average (12th in defensive rebound rate). The Suns have demonstrated that they don't need to win the rebounding battle to win the game, but they do need to make it competitive. If they're going to give up the boards, then the need to...
Make Every Shot Count: The Knicks defense has been atrocious this season, ranking 24th in both defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and opponent's field goal percentage. If the Suns can move the ball and push the tempo, they should be able to find openings in the Knicks' D, especially without defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler manning the paint.
P.J. Tucker vs. Carmelo Anthony: Say what you will about Carmelo's shot selection, but he's been lights out since December 1, shooting a scintillating 47.3% from the field overall and a whopping 52.9% from downtown (hat tip to Bryan Gibberman for reminding me we only wished "Melo" Morris shot like 'Melo Anthony). P.J. Tucker will have his hands full trying to keep New York's leading scorer (26.1 ppg) from getting his.
Injuries are no excuse this time out. The Knicks are missing significant contributors at both ends and are rolling over opponents anyway. Hopefully with a day of rest, the Suns are able to clear out the cobwebs of the last 2 losses. Goran Dragić should look to challenge Raymond Felton and Miles Plumlee could be in for a big game as neither of New York's starting bigs are true centers. Our old friend Amar'e Stoudemire seems to have gotten his sea legs back, going for 21 points on 10 shots in 22 minutes in the Knicks' most recent victory, a 10-point win over Philadelphia. The Morrii and Channing Frye will need to match his bench production to keep the game close.
Frankly, I think this game is a coin toss. If the Suns can run and let Carmelo get his while containing the rest of the Knicks, they should win this game going away. Historically, however, the newly contrite J.R. Smith has been a Suns-killer and can give any defense problems when his shots are falling. I think it ultimately comes down to tempo. The team that imposes its pace on the game wins the game.