The Knicks’ win last night in New York was their first over a team with a winning record. Of course, the unfolding of their schedule is a random thing over which they have no control. But the point here is that, in order to live up to Mike D’Antoni’s boasting that New York is a championship-caliber squad, the Knicks have to dominate all of the league’s weak sisters. That’s why an impressive showing in Memphis is critical.
Meanwhile, Memphis is struggling to be merely respectable while Zach Randolph is down and out. In the interim, the Grizzlies have demonstrated that they play much better at home than on the road —- as evidenced by their playing OKC on nearly even terms on Tuesday. A win over New York would put Memphis only two games below the even-Steven line and do wonders for team morale.
HOW THE KNICKS CAN WIN: Even though he admits that his legs are already weary, Carmelo Anthony has to be on his game, scoring from far and near — especially in clutch situations. He must also avoid being careless with the ball. Nor can his teammates become passive spectators when ‘Melo goes one-on-the-world in the endgame.
* Amar’e Stoudemire has to forgo his reliance on jumpers and attack the rim with his quick spins and in-your-face shot releases. He also has to be more alert in executing his baseline rotations on defense.
* Tyson Chandler’s long-armed defense has to control the lane so that several of the Knicks corner- and wing-defenders can stay in touch with their opposite numbers and not have to race into the middle to help on ball penetration. In so doing, Chandler would be instrumental in boosting New York’s erratic perimeter defense.
* Also, because there’s neither razzle nor dazzle in Marc Gasol’s game, Chandler has to anticipate Gasol’s strictly linear movements and be able to anticipate and challenge his sweeping hooks.
* Rookie point guard Iman Shumpert is a dynamic scorer and defender, but there has to be a dramatic improvement in his ability to initiate and facilitate the offense.
* Landry Fields has to prove that his excellent play during the first half of last season was not a fluke.
* The Knicks’ bench is both undermanned and extremely shaky. Billy Walker and Toney Douglas have to light up the scoreboard, and if Mike Bibby plays he has to drop at least half of his treys to compensate for his slow-footed defense and inability to drive the ball to the rim.
* Controlling their defensive boards is a must.
* Early on, New York has played above-average defense only against offensively-challenged opponents — which fits the Grizzlies’ game plan. They have to keep Rudy Gay out of the paint, play Mike Conley soft and let him shoot, sit on Gasol’s right hand and crowd Marreese Speights, forcing him to put the ball on the floor with his left hand.
* Lack of intensity has been a nagging problem thus far, so above all the Knicks have to play with a sense of urgency.
HOW THE GRIZZLIES CAN WIN: Gay needs to get 20-plus shots and score 25-plus points. To do so, he has to attack the rim.
* Conley is adept at driving with his left hand into the lane, but he must also hit a jumper or two (or three) to keep the defense honest.
* Gasol has to knock down several of his tippy-toe, mid-range jumpers to draw Chandler away from the hoop. Driving to his left once or twice is also a good idea. Since Gasol is the only dependable shot-blocker, he must avoid unnecessary fouls and play at least 35 minutes.
* O. J. Mayo needs to provide considerable offensive punch off the bench.
* Speights has to get involved in medium screen-fades and bag most of his jumpers. He must also do a better job of rotating on defense.
* Tony Allen’s passwork has to be sharp, he has to make his layups and also convert the limited number of treys he attempts.
* The ball must be stopped when New York is in a fast-breaking situation.
* Anthony tends to turn the ball over when he’s quickly doubled on the move. The key here is “quickly.”
* It’s critical to clean their defensive glass to deny the Knicks costly extra possessions.
* The bigs do a good job of showing on high screen/rolls and preventing the ball-handler from turning the corner. Plus, the team’s ball- and player-movement on offense is exceptional. Both of these characteristics attest to the efficacy of Lionel Hollins’ coaching. But there must be no let-down in these departments.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
- Allen has lost a step but he remains the Grizzlies’ best man-to-man defender. Look for him to be sicced on Anthony in the endgame.
- What percentage of Stoudemire’s shots come from above the stripe? The more that do, the less the Knicks’ chances of winning.
- Can the Knicks take full advantage of the home team’s faulty perimeter defense?
- Will Conley be able to repeatedly drive the ball into the lane? If he can, he then puts enormous pressure (and fouls) on Chandler, while also enabling him to kick-out potential assists to his wingmen.
- Will their competitive outing versus OKC inspire or exhaust Memphis? Similarly, what will the Knicks’ game-time attitude be after their win last night over Philly?