While the Knicks matched the Grizzlies in points in the paint (42) Friday night, they only caught up in the fourth quarter when they were down 20 points.
It was Memphis' muscle in the third quarter that was the difference in the game, specifically center Marc Gasol, who scored 12 points to lead his team to a 31-18 advantage in the period. Power forward Zach Randolph added 20 points and 15 rebounds for the game.
That kind of muscle will be flexing in the Knicks' next four games against the Indiana Pacers (Sunday afternoon), New Orleans Hornets (Tuesday), Dallas Mavericks (Wednesday) and Houston Rockets (Friday). The teams feature big, young and active frontcourt players who could feast on the Knicks' interior. New York is currently averaging 38.9 rebounds (fourth-worst), 35.1 points in the paint (fourth-worst) and allowing 44.4 rebounds (sixth-worst).
To stress the Knicks' shortage down low, Carmelo Anthony is the team's leading defensive rebounder (5.4 boards per game). Mike Woodson has been emphasizing rebounding lately, but with Amar'e Stoudemire sidelined and Marcus Camby slowly getting back to form, it's made his coaching more challenging.
Anthony and Tyson Chandler can't do it alone. Fortunately, Rasheed Wallace is developing a better inside presence as he's been working back into game shape. Against this week's upcoming opponents, expect Kurt Thomas to play more, but the Knicks are going to need their wings to up their ante crashing the boards. They just need to make sure they all communicate, so they don't beat in transition and have enough shooters on the outside to capitalize on a second-chance opportunity.
The Knicks have been relying on the 3-point shot a great deal -- their 26.4 attempts per game ranks second-most -- and that's limited their second-chance scoring (11.7 points per game) because of longer rebounds. Not only do the Pacers, for example, only allow 11.6 second-chance points per game, but they also give up 35.8 points in the paint per game (third-best).
So the Knicks better make sure their 3-point shooting is on point Sunday in Indiana. But more importantly, they need to show more fight against the Pacers' bigs, because that's where the game is going to be won. The Knicks need to get clever with their frontline matchups and rotate well defensively, especially guarding the pick-and-roll where they've struggled a bit to do -- most recently against Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley Jr.
The Knicks' biggest advantage could come from their attack, led by Anthony, J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton. If they can draw fouls, forcing Roy Hibbert, David West and/or Tyler Hansbrough to the bench, it will improve the matchup situation.
Currently, the Knicks and Heat sit atop the Eastern Conference, dominated by their star player -- Anthony and LeBron James, respectively -- and 3-point shooting. But neither team saw the Dwight Howard-to-Lakers trade coming. That's why the Knicks need to work on establishing their frontcourt presence, and defending one as well, because eventually the Lakers (Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace) or Thunder (Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant) will stand in the way in the Finals.
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