Current Standings - New York: 38-23, tied for 2nd in the Eastern Conference (with the Indiana Pacers), 1st in the Atlantic Division (leading the Brooklyn Nets by 2 games) Denver: 43-22, 5th in the Western Conference (trailing the San Antonio Spurs by 6 games), 2nd in the Northwest Division (trailing the Oklahoma City Thunder by 4.5 games)
Previous Meetings - Knicks won 112-106 at MSG on December 9. Since then, the Knicks are 23-18, Denver is 33-11. (In related news, December was fun!)
What To Watch For - Carmelo Anthony. Much of this game is about one dude. Firstly, and honestly most importantly, is Melo’s health. His fluid-filled knee made him hobble around like a 6-foot-7 giraffe on Monday against Golden State. For some reason, Mike Woodson kept Melo out there while the Knicks were getting pounded by nearly 30 points for most of the game (while super-healthy starter James White played 5). So we’ll definitely be watching out for how Melo’s body responds, how nimble and sprite he looks, how much lift he’s getting on his jumpers. And oh yeah, he’s returning to Denver. That whole thing.
It’s Anthony’s first visit back to Denver since he forced his way out of town and to the Knicks. Since then, the Nuggets have been the better regular season team but neither team has gotten out of the first round of the playoffs. What’s interesting is that the Melo Detractors (note: if/when I start a cover band, I think we should be named “The Melo Detractors”) feel the Knicks gave up too much to get Anthony, or they should have never made the deal in the first place. I wouldn’t be shocked if some of them are hoping Melo ends up with some egg on his face tonight.
It’s kind of hard to connect every single dot since the trade (Alan Hahn did an awesome job today of going even further back, here). So much has happened, and there is a ton yet to happen still (like the Nuggets getting the Knicks’ 1st round pick in the 2014 draft as part of the deal). As usual with any big trade in sports, the public feels the need to announce a winner and loser right away. But it’s always true that it takes years and years to play out. We’re in the process of that now, but in the infant stages, still. And tonight’s game isn’t a referendum on The Trade. It’s not even a referendum on these two teams. All eyes will be on Anthony (and to a lesser extent Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, the key cogs given up in the deal), and it has a chance to be a special night. But let’s not get carried away about the meaning of Knicks-Nuggets tonight. It’s a game, a big one, but it’s not a franchise barometer game.
(And you know that if the Knicks lose, there will be approximately 5,259 “STARLESS NUGGETS PROVE TEAM BALL WORKS/MELO’S SELFISH AND DOESN’T PASS/KNICKS WILL NEVER WIN ANOTHER GAME EVER BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE DANILO GALLINARI ANYMORE” columns tomorrow morning.)
Injury Update – Denver - No significant injuries – New York - Rasheed Wallace (PF) is out (Fractured Left Fifth Metatarsal) Amar’e Stoudemire (PF) is out (Right Knee Debridement)
Key Matchup - Knicks’ transition D vs. Denver’s speed/Ty Lawson. The Knicks got torched in transition against Golden State. The “success” of the post-Melo Nuggets has a ton more to do George Karl’s revamp of the team’s style since The Trade than simply giving up Melo and “moving the ball”. The Nuggets play fast, letting Ty Lawson get out in transition and find cutters for dunks/alley-oops and trailers for 3s. 43% of their shots are taken within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. George Karl is smart (hoo boy is he smart), so I’m sure he’s seen the film from Monday’s Knicks debacle and is ready to have the Nuggets punish the Knicks in transition.
Knicks Win If – They contain the Nuggets in transition and hit their open looks. The Nuggets aren’t a great defensive team, so the Knicks will get some open looks from the perimeter (as they did against Golden State, however, proceeded to shoot as though they we’re launching medicine balls). They have to hit them. Steve Novak can’t go 0-for. Neither can Jason Kidd. Additionally, depending on Melo’s health, it’d be big to get an efficient game from him. Melo at times can let the moment get the best of him. He needs to keep his emotions in check and not try to go out and score 60 points. Let the game come to him, make quick decisions and make the right passes out of double teams.
Nuggets Win If – The Knicks feel like lollygagging back on defense. They’ll tear New York to shreds. Ty Lawson will be tossing half-court alley-oops to Kenneth Faried if the Knicks don’t make it difficult for the Nuggets when possession changes. In general, the Knicks’ defense simply has to be up to the task tonight.