Don't let the Raptors' 20-32 record fool you as they enter the Garden on Wednesday night. They recently acquired versatile scorer and defender Rudy Gay and got deeper off the bench, which has led to their recent three-game winning streak over two top teams. Gay, especially, has been Melo-esque. Against the Pacers on Feb. 8, he scored 17 of his 23 points down the stretch, and facing the Nuggets on Tuesday night, he hit the game winner.
Here are three main things to watch for tonight, starting at 7:30:
1. It starts with halfcourt defense on Gay and DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors like to run screen sets for both athletic wing scorers to get them open off curls for quick jump shots or to find an open lane to attack. The team also uses them in the low post, where both have effective fall-away jumpers. Even if a half-court play breaks down, Gay and DeRozan can finish off a possession with a basket in isolation.
In addition, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who played on the same AAU team as J.R. Smith, can make plays off pick-and-rolls. His range also poses a problem (he's 4-for-7 from downtown in his past two games). Overall, the Knicks' perimeter will need to be active, aggressive and communicative early on to look out for and fight through screens. It's been one step behind lately.
2. Transition defense is also key. Not only is Lowry speedy, but his teammates filling the lanes, Gay, DeRozan and Terrence Ross, could all easily be in the All-Star dunk contest. (Ross will be the only Raptor in it this weekend.) So the Knicks need to be more careful with their shot selection and be aware of getting back on defense quickly. Coach Mike Woodson recently discussed this.
"I think a lot of that is shot balance, maybe shooting it too fast at times, and we don't have good defensive balance to get back and get the ball stopped in transition," he said.
3. The Knicks need more off their bench. One key matchup tonight could be Amar'e Stoudemire vs. Andrea Bargnani, who's coming off the bench since Gay's arrival. A strong combination of offense and defense from STAT will help contain the Raptors' third biggest scoring threat. It will also be interesting to see whether the Knicks can push the ball more off consistent defensive stops to get Steve Novak and other 3-point shooters looks in transition.
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