Three straight wins for the Raptors. But the Knicks have won six of eight and are 32-17 overall, plus the Raptors had to travel and are on a back-to-back.

The Knicks last played on Sunday, losing to the Clippers, following up on a narrow victory over Minnesota and a loss to Washington. So they’ve stumbled a bit in the past week, perhaps looking ahead to the All Star break or even the playoffs, since they’re relatively confident of a top-four seed in the East at this point. They’re very strong offensively and surprisingly adequate on defense, speaking to the work coach Mike Woodson has done with this squad.

Before we break it down, I enlisted the help of O.G. Jared Dubin, the co-editor in chief of Hardwood Paroxysm, the founder of Hoop Chalk, and one of the authors of We’ll Always Have Linsanity. Busy guy, this Jared, but he took the time to answer some questions for us.

The Knicks are 32-17, playing a bit above expectations and then seamlessly adding Amare Stoudemire back into the fold off of the bench. Has all of this together made Mike Woodson a Coach of the Year candidate?

If the award is determined solely on record and narrative, he’s right in the mix. If it were solely up to me, his slight deficiencies in lineup decisions and in-game adjustments would probably knock him out of the running, though he’d still be a pretty strong candidate. Lucky for him, record and narrative are pretty much exactly what the award is determined on. If the Knicks keep going this well, he’ll finish at or near the top of the list.

What will be the better match-up: You and Me guarding each other at the Sloan True Hoop Network game, or Rudy Gay and Carmelo Anthony battling at the three/four?

Definitely Melo and Gay. I can barely move after my two knee surgeries and won’t have played in nearly a year, and you’re a self-professed terrible/lazy basketball player. Advantage: actual good basketball players.

Hey, I am NOT lazy. Bad, yes, but I’m a big hustle guy. Anyway, somehow the Raptors and Knicks have yet to play and have four meetings still to play. With the Raptors hoping for a late playoff push, what would you say the chances are that the Raps can manage a split?

Pretty slim. The Knicks are a fantastic home team (19-7) and the Raps are pretty terrible on the road (6-19). The Knicks also generally don’t lose to below .500 teams (19-5 against teams currently below .500), while the Raptors have struggled against the better teams in the league (6-22 against teams currently above .500). If the Raptors can manage to steal one of the two games in New York, they can get it done, but it’s probably unlikely. I’ll say the season series ends 3-1 Knicks.

In this game in particular, what can the Raptors look to exploit to escape MSG with a victory?

The Knicks defense is atrocious, especially against pick-and-rolls. Lowry could be in for a huge game if they just keep running him off high ball screens. Any opposing point guard who is even remotely quick has lived in the lane all year against the Knicks, and barring a sudden return to form from Iman Shumpert, Lowry should be able to do the same. Bigger teams have been able to get physical with the Knicks early and get in their heads a bit, but the Raps don’t exactly fit that profile. Pushing the pace, running copious amounts of screen and rolls and pushing the Knicks off the three-point line on the other end are the keys to taking them out.

I followed up on GChat with this question: I’m surprised to hear you say guards have lived in the lane. Has Tyson Chandler, a perennial Defensive Player of the Year Candidate, slipped as a help defender in that regard, or is he just too busy with his man to help all the time?

Both.

So there you have it. The Knicks are very good, tough at home, and deadly against bad teams. However, the Raptors have one potential area to exploit in the pick-and-roll game. It will probably behoove the team to give their bigs some touches early, something they haven’t been consistent with. That could get Chandler moving and force him to stick on his man, allowing Lowry to go to work on Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton. Anyway, let’s have a look at the match-up.

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: New York 111.3 (3rd), Toronto 106.5 (10th)
D-Rating: New York 105.9 (16th), Toronto 108.1 (26th)
Pace: New York 90.2 (24th), Toronto 90.0 (25th)
Strength: Both Ball Control (New York 1st, Toronto 2nd), New York Three-Point Shooting (2nd in makes, 6th in 3FG%), Toronto Guarding Threes (6th fewest opponent attempts/game)
Weakness: Toronto Opponent Point in Paint (26th), New York Opponent Shooting at Rim (23rd)

Key Match-Up: Carmelo Anthony vs. Rudy Gay
Anthony: 29-6-3, 41% 3FG, 24.5 PER, .190 WS/48
Gay: 18-6-3, 1.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 15.0 PER, .084 WS/48
These two will likely match-up at the three and sometimes at the four. They played 29 minutes against each other earlier this year and Melo scored 20 points on 13 field goal attempts, but he also had five turnovers. I’m sure Tony Allen checked him at times, but given Melo’s size it seems likely Gay drew the assignment most of the time. Melo can be coaxed into turnovers and occasionally iso-ball. On the flip side, Gay managed 13 points on eight shots with just one turnover. He also picked up four fouls, however, something he got in trouble with on Tuesday as well. Gay will have to try and check ‘Melo aggressively but safely. Tall order, I know. If Gay could manage to play Anthony to a draw, the Raptors have a chance.

Other Storylines
DeMar DeRozan vs. J.R. Smith
DeRozan averages 17.5 points with a 14.3 PER. Smith averages 16 points with a 15.3 PER. DeRozan still has some upside, whereas Smith is probably peaking right now. Both are big dunkers, but Smith can also stroke the three (up until this year, at least). Who would you take given the choice between the two in a contact-neutral context? I’d still grab DeRozan for the upside that remains, and since he’s had to do what he’s done in a tougher team context, but there are some that would certainly grab Smith. Anyway, this is a fun match-up of shooting guards and once again, an area the Raptors could come out ahead in.

I hate Raymond Felton.
Not sure why, I just do. He shoots 40% but spreads the floor and has done a nice job growing into a facilitator despite not having the ball as often as most point guards. I have respect for the year he’s had, I just really dislike him. Just one of those things.

Chase them off the line.
This is a big key, as Jared mentioned. The Raptors have done a good job keeping teams off the three-point line, but the entire Knicks gameplan is predicated on floor spacing. Six different players average at least one make a game (seven if you include Rasheed Wallace, who is unfortunately out of the line-up). Smith, Felton, Anthony, Kidd, Steve Novak and Shumpert all need to be closed out on.

Chandler questionable.
If Chandler can’t go, I’d assume we’ll see a lot of small ball on both sides. Carmelo has been VERY good as a power forward this year (and throughout his career), while Gay and Alan Anderson are fully capable of moving there as well. A Chanlder absence would leave the Knicks with just Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas in the paint, creating an opportunity for Amir Johnson to have a big game as a small five. Sometimes I’d suggest the Raptors stay big/normal against an opposition like that and force them to match-up or deal with the size disadvantage, but I’d be hesitant to have Johnson (for foul reasons) and Andrea Bargnani on Anthony for long stretches. Plus, the Raptors are just way more fun with three wings on the floor and Johnson or Jonas Valanciunas at the five.

The Picks
Vegas: Knicks -9
Hollinger: Knicks -8.5
Blake: Knicks by 5.

Even if Chandler can’t go, I have trouble envisioning a game where the Raptors manage to guard Anthony well, close out on shooters, and exploit the pick and roll game all together. One or two of those three key points won’t do the trick, so the Raptors will need to pitch a near perfect game to steal the victory. I don’t see it, but I can see them hanging tight to maintain their momentum into the All Star break.

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