The Knicks' home opponent Thursday night, the Bulls, are in the upper percentile of nearly every statistical category, largely due to the play of Derrick Rose, likely the league's best point guard. If the Knicks can contain Rose, they'll have a chance to win, because as he goes so do the Bulls.
Fortunately for the Knicks, Rose may have a harder task in the second of a back-to-back because small forward Luol Deng and shooting guard Richard Hamilton, who didn't play last night in a loss in Philadelphia due to injuries, could likely miss tonight as well. But, still, the Knicks can't take the Bulls lightly at all as they have the East's best record at 18-6. If they win, it'll be no doubt their biggest of the season, especially considering all their recent struggles.
"I'm excited about it. Chicago is a great test for us," Tyson Chandler said. "Chicago is a team that's been together for the last couple of years. They play great defense, execute. So coming off a good win last night, I feel like if we play the same way, lock in defensively, I like our chances."
Here are three things to watch for tonight at the Garden:
1.) THE KNICKS MUST MAKE SURE THERE'S ONLY ONE "ROSE GARDEN"
Rose is so good that he doesn't even really need the pick-and-roll, the staple play in the NBA, to make his moves to the basket. His bursts of speed and sudden changes in direction are unmatched with anyone else in the league. That includes his crossover dribble. Most point guards need to use the high hesitation before the cross, but he's so fast that he can go in either direction with blow-by quickness.
Once he gets into the paint, he performs like a young Michael Jordan. He's most dangerous with his stop-on-a-dime patented floater. If he does decide to penetrate further to the rim, he's acrobatic enough to alter his mid-air movement and strong enough to absorb contact from Chandler and Amare Stoudemire combined. He's like the Cirque du Soleil of the NBA.
The bigger issue for opposing defenses with Rose's breaking the interior plane is his ability to see the open court and make the long skip pass after leaving his feet. That's, again, a credit to his upper-body strength. And he has the right players in place to capitalize on his dishes: Kyle Korver from three, Carlos Boozer from 10 to 15 feet out and Joakim Noah slashing to the basket. Even if Deng and Hamilton are out, he's still got plenty of weapons.
Of course, Rose himself is the biggest weapon for the Bulls, as he's averaging a team-high 23.1 points and 7.7 assists per game. (In his last six games, since returning from a turf toe injury, he's averaged 27.8 ppg.) A lot will ride on Iman Shumpert, a fellow Chicagoan, to make things difficult for him. Fortunately, he brings the team's best one-on-one defense to the starting point guard position. The rookie's averaging 2.18 steals per game, which is the third-highest mark in the league.
2.) THE KNICKS CAN'T LET ROSE GENERATE OFFENSE AND OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS
From the words of Chandler: "[Derrick] is coming at you full speed all the time. He's the main reason why I think the Bulls are the top offensive rebounding team in the league, because he puts so much pressure on the bigs. He's constantly driving, drawing contact. When he does miss if I'm going after the shot, it’s hard to keep Noah and Boozer off the glass."
What Chandler meant by pressure is that Rose forces the opposing center to play up closer to the perimeter to clog him, which then opens up the paint more for Noah and Boozer to grab rebounds. The Knicks aren't too bad on the offensive glass, averaging 10.8 per game, but the Bulls are actually second-best in the league at 13.2, after the Kings (14.0).
3.) WILL MIKE D'ANTONI MONITOR MINUTES?
With the Knicks embarking tonight on their first back-to-back-to back of the season (Bulls, Celtics and Nets), it will be interesting to see how D'Antoni balances the lineups on the court. Stoudemire tweaked his right ankle against the Pistons and Carmelo Anthony is just two days removed from returning from his assortment of injuries. Melo even said there are no guarantees he'll play in all three games, so perhaps he'll see limited minutes stating tonight.
It would benefit the Knicks if they can jump out early on the injury-battered Bulls, like the Sixers did last night in the first quarter, so the two stars can rest a bit. It won't get any easier following the game.
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