TOK Game Preview – New York Knicks at Atlanta Hawks

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The New York Knicks will look to extend their nine game winning streak, as they travel to Philips Arena to face the fifth seeded Atlanta Hawks. Head Coach Mike Woodson will make his fourth appearance against the team he formerly was at the helm of, certainly making it a more appealing to snatch up the team’s potential tenth straight win.

Carmelo Anthony was red hot last night against the Miami Heat, matching his career high with 50 points, on an incredible 18-26 shooting performance.  Carmelo also hit 7-10 three-pointers in the game, but it will be interesting too see if he can carry the same momentum against the scrappy Hawks.

Tonight’s matchup marks the second of back-to-backs on the road for the Knicks, against an Atlanta team that’s far from a push over. However, the Knicks are 12-2 against the Southeast Division this season, and looking to extend that win total. Led by one of the most prolific power forward/center combinations in the league, consisting of Josh Smith and Al Horford, the Hawks are currently on a two game winning streak.

The Hawks are breathing down the neck of the Brooklyn Nets for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, leaving every game they play from here on out highly important. The Knicks are going to get Atlanta’s full effort tonight, so it’s vital they do not come out of the gate with a lack of effort.

Current Standings – New York (47-26) – Currently 2nd in the Eastern Conference (10.5 game behind the Miami Heat), 1st in the Atlantic Divison (Brooklyn Nets trail by 5.0 games). Atlanta (42-33) – Currently 5th in the Eastern Conference (16.5 games behind the Miami Heat, 1.0 game behind the 4th seeded Nets), 2nd in the Southeast Division (16.5 games behind the Heat).

Injury Update – New York – Kurt Thomas (out, stress fracture in right foot), Amare Stoudemire (out, knee surgery), Rasheed Wallace (out, foot injury). Atlanta – Lou Williams (out, torn knee ligament) Zaza Pachulia (out, achilles).

Previous Meeting – The Knicks defeated the visiting Hawks 106-104 on January 27th, 2013, in a riveting matchup. Carmelo Anthony was the game’s high scorer, dropping 42 points, on 9-12 shooting from downtown, putting on a clinic for the Madison Square Garden crowd.

What’s at Stake – The Knicks have been fending off the Indiana Pacers most of the season so they remain in the second seed, which will be crucial come playoff time. If the Knicks can hold on to the number two seed, they will avoid having to play the Heat until the Eastern Conference Finals, making the road to the finals a tad more ensuring. The Nets have been making numerous pushes to grab the Atlantic Division, but the Knicks recent surge has giving them a more comfortable cushion of late.

As I mentioned earlier in the preview, the Hawks are only one game behind the Nets for the fourth seed in the East, making that an interesting battle that can change the landscape of the playoffs. If Atlanta can steal the fourth seed and move past Brooklyn, they will have the home court advantage in the first round. That’s a factor that can make or break a team’s destiny as the playoffs arrive.

Key Matchup – Under Woodson, Anthony has averaged a whopping 39.0 points a game in the three games the Knicks have played against the Hawks. Carmelo’s confidence level is sky high after the scoring showcase he displayed last night in Miami. This leaves me no reason to believe Anthony isn’t capable of putting on a similar performance tonight. What will be interesting, is how aggressive he will be guarded by one of the NBA’s most versatile players, Josh Smith. Smith is the youngest player in history to reach 1,000 blocks, proving his defensive tenacity can somewhat be a challenge for Anthony at certain spots.

Another matchup that will be a key aspect to the outcome of the game will be the big man battle between Smith, Horford, Tyson Chandler, and Kenyon Martin. The Hawk’s bigs are more finesse and skilled then the Knicks bigs, so it’s going to be interesting to see if Horford and Smith can respond in the paint with the same aggression.

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