Kyrie Irving

A brutal loss to the lowly Bobcats has some folks pretty pissed off; of their 7 wins this season, 2 of them have come against the Raptors…I’ll let that sink in for a minute…In all fairness, though, that poor showing against the worst team in the history of the NBA league has more to do with match-ups, than an indictment on the quality of the Raptors. I say this because the night before, the Raptors took the best of the Grizzlies, and sent them home packing. You could argue the weekend games should have played out differently, but the net result was the same. That said, it would have been nice to get that win, because over the next seven games, the Raptors play the Knicks Twice, the Bulls twice, the Magic, Nuggets and Heat; gonna be tough.

The Raptors and Knicks have split the first two outings of the year, with the last game ending in a Lin three point game winner:

Devastating, but it made for some damn exciting ball. Just for the record, Bayless wouldn’t have given the kid so much room.

Tonight’s Knicks will be a totally different look from the last two teams we saw this season; everyone is in the lineup, they’ve added depth to the bench, and after giving Woodson the coaching reigns (I’m so not a fan of the guy, never thought he would be coaching again), the Knicks have gone on a three game winning streak; looking the part of a team with two all-stars and a defending champ defensive anchor in its lineup.

I went back and forth with Jon from Knicksfan.net about the new new-look Knicks:

Sam: Woodson takes over a team, and they promptly go on a 3 game winning streak; what’s different?
Jon: Honestly, it really boils down to effort and attention to detail. Since Woodson took over there’s been a palpable surge in the team’s energy level, particularly Melo and Amar’e, who are supposed to be the ones setting the tone for the entire team (in reality, that job falls on Chandler and, to a lesser extent, Lin and Jeffries).

The Knicks are mostly running the same sets they had been running under D’Antoni with some different emphasis and a few added wrinkles. But over the three game winning streak since Woodson took over the main difference is that the team is running those sets more efficiently and with much greater commitment. Woodson has taken Lin off the ball a little bit and, to my eye, made a conscious effort to get Melo more touches earlier in the shot clock. Melo has responded by not forcing shots and making quick, smart decisions with greater frequency than he did under D’Antoni. And both Melo and Amar’e are playing excellent defense.

At bottom, though, the difference is that they’re trying really hard now.

Sam: Who’s going to be coaching the Knicks next season?
Jon: It’s not easy to say at this point. There’s buzz here in New York that Phil Jackson is going to be the next anointed savior to take 40 or so million dollars of owner Jim Dolan’s money and try to turn this Knicks squad from lemons to lemonade. Color me skeptical, though.

More likely, the Knicks throw a bunch of cash at a big-name coach with lesser bona fides than Phil like John Calipari or Nate McMillan. I suppose the Van Gundy brothers could be in this mix as well if Dwight axes Stan or if Jeff and Dolan decide to kiss and make up.

And, of course, we shouldn’t discount the possibility that Woodson gets the gig permanently, at least not until he loses a game.

Sam: How are Lin, Amar, Carmelo and Chandler going to coexist in the long-run?
Jon: I think it should work out fine provided that Lin, Amar’e and Melo are willing to sacrifice a bit. Chandler can play with anyone and proves game after game that he cares only about winning. Lin, Amar’e and Melo are all guys who play best with the ball in their hands. That’s a little bit of a challenge but Woodson has responded to it (smartly) by calling more plays. The key is making sure that all three are playing unselfishly and remain engaged at both ends on every possession. If they do that, as they have over these past three games, there’s no reason they can’t play well together.

Sam: Will we see a move involving one or more of Carmelo, Amare and Chandler that nets them an all-star talent?
Jon: If the Knicks lose the momentum they have now and miss the playoffs, anything is possible. Short of that, I think the core of this team will probably be together through at least next season. Chandler is the heart of the team and has been their best player this season and the owner made the trade for Carmelo over the advice/warnings of his front office, so I don’t think either of those two will be dealt anytime soon. Amar’e looks like he may be declining athletically and I do think the Knicks would at least consider trading him if a good opportunity arose but, given that he’s owed around $60 million over the next 3 seasons on an uninsurable contract, I don’t expect it.

Most likely, the team you see tonight is going to be the core of the Knicks for a while. They’re more likely churn through some coaches before they would take a grenade to the roster.

Sam: This is going to be a different game than the Carmelo-less squad that got a game winning three from Lin the last time out; what can we expect to see tonight, and what will the Raptors need to do to be competitive?
Jon: A lot is different.

In the last Linsanity-fueled matchup last month the Knicks actually stole victory from the jaws of defeat with a timely steal and dunk by Shumpert and, of course, the Lin game winner. (Still saved on my tivo. Lin!) You never know what you’re going to get from this Knicks squad night to night but if the last three games are any indication, the Raptors should expect to see the same defense they saw in the 4th quarter last time coupled with a more dangerous and varied offense. (The Knick offense no longer consists of running 65 high pick-and-rolls for Lin every game.)

The other big difference is that the team goes 10 deep now. The last time the Knicks and Raptors played, Jared Jeffries and Bill Walker were starters. Since then, those two been replaced in the lineup by Melo and Amar’e, Baron Davis returned from his back injury (though, he’s out again tonight), and the teamsigned JR Smith. The bench has been a huge, perhaps underrated part of the team’s recent success. Woodson starts putting in his reserves around the 4-5 minute mark of the first quarter and those guys have been routinely taking small leads and turning them into much bigger ones.

For the Raptors to win tonight, they’re probably going to need Bayless to attack Lin as Calderon did in the first matchup and the team is going to need to shoot well from behind the 3 point line. They’ll also have to keep the turnovers to a minimum because the Knicks have been doing an awesome job under Woodson of running off defense.

The Line

The Knicks are 9-point favourites with an over/under of 198. With Jose potentially limping back into the lineup, and less firepower off the bench, it’s going to be a long night. I haven’t seen the Knicks play during this three game winning streak, so I don’t have a sense of how this bad-boy will play out, but with Carmelo coming out and actually saying he wasn’t trying before, I’m expecting a scrappy showing from the Raptors to keep this one from getting out of hand.