Current Standings - New York: 37-21, 2nd in the Eastern Conference (7.5 behind the Miami Heat), 1st in the Atlantic Division (Leading the Brooklyn Nets by 3.5 games) Oklahoma City: 44-16, 2nd in the Western Conference (2.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs), 1st in the Northwest Division (5 games ahead of the Denver Nuggets)
Previous Meeting - These teams haven’t met yet this season. Due to the lockout, they only played once last year, with the Thunder winning 104-92 in Oklahoma City.
What To Watch For - The most important thing to watch for leading up to the game is whether or not Carmelo Anthony is going to play. Kevin Durant is no doubt going to try to replicate the havoc that Stephen Curry wreaked in the last nationally televised primetime game at The World’s Most Famous Arena and while I’m not suggesting Melo can contain Durant defensively, Anthony can bully him enough on the other end of the court to tire out the young phenom and make him work for his buckets. If Melo’s not playing, it will be tough for the Knicks to match the Thunder’s offensive fire power. The Knicks simply have no answer defensively for Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook, unless Iman Shumpert is let loose Amar’e Stoudemire style. My guess is that STAT plays under 30 minutes tonight, whether Melo plays or not, with it being the second game of a back-to-back. Both of these teams use tons of isolation sets, so look for a few outstanding individual performances.
Injury Update – Oklahoma City – No current injuries. New York - Carmelo Anthony (SF) is listed Day-to-Day (Knee) Rasheed Wallace (PF) is out (Fractured Left Fifth Metatarsal)
Key Matchup - If Melo plays the key matchup is hands down Anthony vs. Durant. They were both born to put the ball in the hole. Durant currently owns the league lead in points per game by less than half a point over Melo. While Durant can get any shot he wants against Carmelo, he will find it equally tough to guard Melo in the post. This is the type of marquee matchup that keeps fans coming back.
If Melo sits again, then the matchup to look out for is Amar’e Stoudemire vs. Serge Ibaka. The Thunder are tied with Houston for the league lead in points per game (107.0) and if Melo isn’t around to generate offense, then a lot of the onus will fall on the red-hot Stoudemire. Ibaka comes in to the game leading the league in blocks, and has become one of the league’s most feared interior defenders. The Knicks can’t afford to get into a running match with the Thunder, so look for STAT to get more looks than usual in the half court.
Knicks Win If – It would certainly make things easier if Melo were to play, but the Knicks have the depth to beat the Thunder without him too. They would have to play aggressive early and look to get Ibaka and Durant in foul trouble, but as long as they don’t allow too many easy transition buckets and can execute in crunch time, a victory is not impossible.
Thunder Win If – The Thunder are mature beyond their years and probably don’t care if Anthony plays or not, but it would make it much easier for them to win if he doesn’t suit up. Neither Felton, Kidd, or Prigioni can even come close to keeping Westbrook in front of them, so if he can draw a double-team, Durant will have a field day, making them almost impossible to beat. Even if Melo plays, Oklahoma City just simply has to execute to get the road victory. Most nights, all they have to do is show up to win.