The San Antonio Spurs (29-4) will look to continue their winning ways and be the first team in the NBA to reach 30 wins as they face the New York Knicks (19-14) tonight at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks come into the game minus Danilo Gallinari who will be out with a left knee sprain. However, this Knicks team is not the Knicks of old. They added Amar'e Stoudemire who has been on a tear since joining New York. Also, Raymond Felton and rookie Landry Fields have been great additions for New York. Coached by Mike D'Antoni, a familiar face for Spurs fans, the Knicks will look to run on the Spurs but this Spurs team is running more this season.
To talk about the Knicks and the matchup tonight, I turned to fellow NBA blogger here at Bloguin, LIVES from the superb Knicks Fanatics, your one-stop place for everything Knicks. In this Q&A, LIVES (yes that is the name he goes by) talks about the Knicks performance this season, Knicks' rookie Fields, New York's game plan against the Spurs and more. To read the Q&A I did with LIVES click HERE to visit Knicks Fanatics.
Jeff: OK I will admit, I did not expect this Knicks team to be this good entering the season. With the new players such as Raymond Felton, Landry Fields, and Amar'e Stoudemire, I figured it would be a while before the chemistry would set it. What do you attribute to the Knicks solid performance this season?
LIVES: Don't laugh, but it is fairly simple. They have played better than the teams they have beaten this season. Prior to the Denver game on December 12th, the Knicks had specialized in beating teams below .500, teams they were supposed to beat if they were to be considered a serious playoff contender. The Knicks winning streak during which they won 13 of 14 games was built largely on the relentless play of the Knicks,and allowed them to gain confidence and create chemistry. The key is that the Knicks have done what most NBA teams do not, play for 45 to 48 minutes even when down by double digits. Since their victory against Denver, the Knicks have demonstrated they can not only beat the downtrodden, but they will also beat and challenge those playoff-bound teams that don't play persistent defense.
Sure the Knicks are a good team but does it worry you coach D'Antoni's "7 seconds or less" style of play does not work in the playoffs (see his time with the Phoenix Suns) should the Knicks make it in?
I would phrase it another way: "Lack of Defense does not win in the playoffs." The style of offensive play concerns me less than the sacrifice of defense and rebounding at the alter of the Offensive Gods. The Knicks are undersized and as hard as they work they will eventually feel like they are paddling upstream with ping pong paddles against the better teams. The major part of the equation that D'Antonirefuses to admit is that if your players are willing to run for you the entire game, you must manage the rotation and their time so they can do it over an entire season. His eight man rotations are bound to bite him in the arse over the length of a season as his players tire and injuries force him to his bench which has not been adequately acclimated to game situations.
The loss of Gallinari will present a significant challenge offensively and may provide instant proof that the rotation has been too short and it will take a couple of games for the team to adjust. However, if someone steps up defensively and can contribute a little offensively, Gallo will be missed less as chemistry develops. This is a good time for Landry Fields to really show his offensive skills, which are even better than he has demonstrated and for a Shawne Williams to show more aggressiveness on the defensive end.
What's the latest on the Knicks trying to land Carmelo Anthony? Is New York even in the mix?
Knicks fans are finally content enough, for the most part, to obtain Carmelo when the least damage can be done to this team -- during free agency when Anthony can make good on his insistence that he wants to be a Knick and we won't necessarily need to lose Chandler and Fields in the transaction.
Heading into the 2010 NBA Draft, one player I was wishing would fall to the Spurs was Fields. He has all-around skills but more importantly his basketball IQ is high. How would you assess his rookie season so far?
Superb. He may be wearing down a bit as he gets deeper into the season and the opposition becomes tougher but he has played beyond his years. According to ESPN rankings, he is currently the second best rookie behind Blake Griffin. Can you imagine if Blake Griffin had played last year and this was not his rookie year? Walsh must get major credit for that find.
The Spurs run more this season but can play defense when needed. Case in point the win over the Oklahoma City Thunder holding the Thunder to 74 points. What should the Knicks' game-plan be against a Spurs team that can seemingly play in any style?
The Knicks need to do more of the same. They need to control the pace and be relentless and constantly active. They cannot allow the Spurs to rest on the defensive end. D'Antoni must figure out how to bring some rebounding balance to the game. He will need a little more size, but San Antonio needs to figure out how to stop Amar'e if they want to stop the Knicks.
Defensively, the Knicks will have their hands full with Ginobli and anyone who can hit an open three. Raymond Felton is tenacious but has not proven fast or strong enough to stop the best guards. Although the Knicks lead the league with 6.7 blocks per game, they rank 28th in opposing points per game and they are the seventh worse team in terms of opposing field goal percentage. Ginobli may be stunned with how often he can get to the basket in transition especially if San Antonio is relentless. Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter and George Hill may be so surprised at how much room they have on the perimeter that they nervously will shoot air balls. We hope.
Which matchup would you tell Spurs and Knicks fans to keep an eye on?
The matchups which I will pay the most attention to are Stoudemire and Rony Turiaf versus Duncan and Ginobli versus Felton. Amar'e is virtually unstoppable one on one within 10 feet of the basket. I am curious to see if Pop has the scouting report on Amar'e's weakness when he's forced to put the ball on the floor too far out from the basket. A double team from his backside once he puts the ball to the court is a turnover waiting to happen. Felton will have a difficult time guarding Ginobli, but I will cheer very loudly every time Manu's shot is blocked by Turiaf, Chandler and Stoudemire.