Knicks @ Sixers: MSG 7pm
The Knicks exercised the Celtics demons and are headed to Philly for another key Atlantic Division game. With the Nets at 9-3 and the Knicks 5-3 in the division, every divisional win will be crucial and could be the difference between a number 2 and a number 5 seed. The good news is that Raymond Felton practiced on Friday and may play tonight. Felton has been the ignition to the Knicks offense, whereas Carmelo is the engine. With Felton out, the Knicks went 6-6, after starting 20-8. Philly is three games out of the final playoff spot in the East at 17-25 and they are losers of 8 out of 10 games.
If Felton returns, he will have his hands full with first time All-Star, Jrue Holliday. Holliday is 5th in the East in scoring at 19 ppg and 4th in the entire NBA with 9 assists. His weakness is his propensity for turnovers as he averages 4 per game, which accounts for a third of all Sixer turnovers, as they only average 12 total per contest. The Knicks need to slow him down with some full court pressure and take him out of the offense as he handles the ball a large percentage of the time as he sets up the offense. Philly’s offense struggles to score besides Holliday, as they are 25th in offensive efficiency, compared to the Knicks who are third. Defensively, Philly has the 18th rated defensive efficiency, so the Knicks will have their opportunities to get open shots if they remain patient.
The chemistry between Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony has been growing over the past three games. STAT had a tremendous second quarter against Boston, as Coach Woodson hid his defensive deficiencies with a 2-3 zone. In the last three games, STAT is averaging just under 16 ppg and over 6 rebounds in 22 minutes of action. Even better, he is getting to the line an average of almost 9 times per game and shooting 77% from the charity stripe. This is huge for the Knicks second unit and Stoudemire’s confidence is growing every day. If this continues, the Knicks depth would be second to none in the East.
Another Divisional game is difficult, but it would be good for the Knicks to turn a corner here and start a winning streak before facing the Hawks at MSG on Sunday. With the Atlanta game, the Knicks start a five game home stand against the Hawks, Magic, Bucks, Kings, and Pistons. The home stand alone could complete a 6 game winning streak for New York, before hitting the road against the Wizards and Timberwolves. The Knicks need to create some space over the Nets who lost to the Grizzlies on Friday night and sit a game and a half back.
The Nets have a tough schedule ahead, playing at Houston, hosting the Magic, Heat, Bulls, and Lakers, before hitting the road against the Pistons and Wizards, two teams playing very well right now. After that, the Nets play the Spurs, Indiana and then the Nuggets. No easy task for the Nets so say the least. The Knicks must take full advantage of the huge opportunity to get out in front. Hopefully with Felton back, the rough days are behind us as the Knicks continue their quest to meeting goal number one…winning the Atlantic Division championship. GO NEW YORK GO!!