ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell and ESPNNewYork’s Jared Zwerling had a few questions for each other before Monday’s Bulls-Knicks game.
Three questions about the Knicks
NF: What is the biggest reason why the Knicks have lost five in a row?
JZ: Offensive and defensive lapses, especially in the third quarter. In fact, in their past three games (all losses), they've had the worst average third-quarter scoring margin in the NBA (-10.3 points). Against the Sixers on Sunday afternoon, they got outscored 38-24 in the period. The Knicks start off strong with their patented pick-and-roll play featuring Jeremy Lin, but then the added pressure and defensive traps cause him to lose focus and commit turnovers. From there, the offense breaks apart. That's also because his teammates didn't come to his aid very well. On defense, they have effort breakdowns, especially guarding the pick-and-roll, and they react late to reads, not jumping out on shooters quickly enough. That definitely can't happen tonight with Kyle Korver on the court.
NF: Will Mike D'Antoni be back next year?
JZ: No. There is clearly a discrepancy between D'Antoni and Carmelo Anthony, no matter how much those two say they can work together. D'Antoni wants to run the pick-and-roll centered around his point guard, and the Knicks played extremely well doing that with Lin and Tyson Chandler before Anthony and Amare Stoudemire returned to the lineup. Now, the Knicks are back to more isolation basketball. That's not just on Anthony; that's on a revamped Knicks' roster trying to complete the puzzle quickly without much practice time during the shortened season. But in a league centered around individual superstars, Anthony will win out over D'Antoni, who's in the last year of his contract.
NF: 3. Can Carmelo and Amare produce together on the floor?
JZ: Points-wise yes, but it remains to be seen how they can fit in the offense that D'Antoni is trying to build through Lin and the pick-and-roll. The Knicks are one of the deepest teams in the league, but Anthony and Stoudemire haven't made the sacrifices yet to play within the system. That means less shots, but more passing, screens and intangibles -- more of the little things. As I mentioned, isolation basketball is taking over the team right now and that can't happen. Stars making sacrifices in their prime is not easy to do, but they both have to make them for the Knicks to be successful this season and beyond.
Three questions about the Bulls
JZ: The Bulls were without three starters on Saturday -- Luol Deng (wrist), Joakim Noah (flu) and Rip Hamilton (shoulder) -- and they still beat the Jazz. What did you learn new about the team after the win? Are they deeper than you ever thought?
NF: They are the deepest team in the league in my opinion. Saturday's win didn't change anyone's perception of the Bulls as much as it reconfirmed it. No matter who is out there on the floor, the Bulls feel like they can pick up a win every single night. It's a credit to the culture coach Tom Thibodeau has built over the past year and a half.
JZ: Has Derrick Rose exposed any weaknesses this season? Perhaps you'd like to reveal a bit of hope for Knicks fans.
NF: Rose's biggest weakness this year is that he has gotten hurt more than at any other point in his career. I do think the back injury is still an issue for him, but it hasn't slowed him down that much. At times, Rose still struggles with the quick double-team trap when he crosses halfcourt, but he's still one of the most dominating forces in the game.
JZ: If the Knicks remain at the eighth seed and play the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs, is there even a window of opportunity for the Knicks, no matter how much better they get?
NF: Yeah, I think so. The Bulls' players respect the Knicks and they know that a postseason series at the Garden could be difficult. They still believe they would beat the Knicks, but they know it's not a slam dunk. Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire can still go off at any time and you would think that Jeremy Lin will continue to get better. I'm sure Knicks fans aren't feeling good about the team's recent play but, rest assured, no visiting team wants to go into the Garden during the playoffs if they don't have to.