The first time the Knicks played the Hornets, a win back on Nov. 20 in New Orleans, their opponent was missing their best offensive and defensive players: shooting guard Eric Gordon and power forward Anthony Davis, respectively. After the game, the Knicks, at near full strength, improved to 8-1 on the season, while the Hornets dropped to 3-6.
Heading into their second matchup of the season against the Hornets on Sunday afternoon at the Garden, the situation is sort of in reverse. While the Knicks have lost three straight, the Hornets have won four in a row. Gordon and Davis are both back, and the Knicks will be without one of their best offensive players, Raymond Felton, and their best perimeter defender, Iman Shumpert, who's set to return this week. In addition, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace are sidelined.
Here are three things to watch for starting at noon ET:
1. What will the matchups be? The Hornets' starting backcourt featuring Gordon and point guard Greivis Vasquez presents a unique challenge for the Knicks, especially because of Vasquez's 6-foot-6 height and three-tooled ability (scoring, passing and rebounding). On the season, he's averaging 14.2 points, 9.2 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. Then, there's Gordon, who can score one-on-one all over the court. In only six games back from a right knee injury, he's averaging 15.7 points.
Mike Woodson may want to consider assigning James White to Vasquez, which will mean Jason Kidd will guard Gordon. Both Gordon and Vasquez can get into the lane well in isolation and off pick-and-rolls, and after what Kirk Hinrich did on Friday night, there's some reason to worry. J.R. Smith will definitely see Gordon and Vasquez at different times. Overall, the Knicks need to limit deep-drive penetration. The Bulls got plenty of that the other night, and they capitalized.
Regarding the frontcourt, will Carmelo Anthony, who called Sunday's game at MSG a "must win," face his fellow Olympian Davis at power forward? That would be an interesting matchup. While Anthony has pounds on Davis (13.2 pgg, 7.7 rpg and 1.8 bpg), the rookie is an above-the-rim player, which Melo is not. Keeping him out of the paint and off the boards will be key for Anthony. That goes for all of the Knicks.
2. Will Anthony facilitate more pick-and-rolls? Against the Bulls, the Knicks' pick-and-roll broke down often and Woodson went to Melo in the "Jordan post," another way of calling the high corner where the Bulls superstar loved to set up. But that didn't always result in a ball-moving-and-scoring possession.
With Kidd struggling in extended minutes, the Knicks could benefit from more of a point-forward Anthony -- not just point guard Smith -- who could run the pick-and-roll with Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. While Chandler is still the primary screener, STAT is being used in the low post perhaps too much. Overall, there needs to be more versatile pick-and-roll action to get the players moving more. There's a bit too much isolation and standing around going on these days.
3. Can the Knick start off strong -- and maintain that? They cannot prevent another first-quarter collapse. In their past eight losses, the Knicks outscored their opponent in the opening period just once.
So what needs to happen early on during Sunday's matinee? Tenacity and talking.
The guys need to get after it defensively, especially by communicating. Anthony said after Saturday's practice that the quietness has affected them recently. It's sure showed in their reaction time and perimeter rotations. The Hornets can get hot from downtown -- from Gordon and Vasquez to Ryan Anderson and former Knick Roger Mason Jr. off the bench -- so the Knicks need to bring it for 48 minutes.
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