There was a stretch in early January when the Knicks played the Celtics, Pacers and Bulls and were outmatched by the physicality of the three beasts in the East.
Starting Monday, the Knicks will be tested in a different way against five consecutive difficult opponents: the Warriors, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Clippers and Jazz.
The challenge? Keeping up with the faster pace, which defines the Western Conference style of play.
The Knicks' offense is the sixth-slowest in the NBA in terms of pace (92.7) -- a measurement of the average number of possessions per 48 minutes by a team. The Nuggets, on the other hand, have the second-fastest pace (97.7) and the Warriors are fifth (97).
Additionally, while the Knicks are second-worst in the league in fast-break points per game (9.0), the Nuggets, Clippers, Jazz and Warriors are all in the top 10. Denver is first in the category at 19.8, led by arguably the speediest point guard in the league, Ty Lawson, and his explosive wing teammates. The other teams also have fleet, big-time floor generals: Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard.
Fueled by that speed and scoring in transition, those teams also capitalize on the energy of their local fans. Each team is much better in its own building than on the road. In fact, the Nuggets are tied with the Heat for the league's best home record (28-3).
On Saturday, Mike Woodson spoke about the importance of controlling pace on the road.
"It's going to be very important," he said. "Denver is just running people out of the gym. I don't know if it has a lot to do with the altitude or what, but they've been great at home. And the Clippers have been great in their building, so I mean, anytime you go on the road and play in hostile environments, you've got to control tempo. You can't get in their type of game, unless it presents itself, but you've got to know when to back away because they're pretty good in those buildings."
Woodson said that to prepare for the faster pace, rest is "the main thing," which holds true for the older Knicks and their recent history of injuries.
"If we got time to get a day or two of practice in, we will, but a lot of this is going to come down to guys getting rest and being ready and more alert," he said. "When you got this many games hitting you like that, if you're not alert, then you're not going to get much accomplished on the floor. So you've got to be committed, you've got to be focused."
Tyson Chandler said that he likes "the personnel of this team" for adjusting to different paces.
"We can play in any game," he said. "We're big, we're physical and we've got enough players to get up and down the court."
He's right about the transition game, but only when the guys commit to defense, which they have been doing recently. While the Knicks don't have a plethora of young run-and-gun players, like their West opponents, they're able to capitalize off making stops through Raymond Felton's and J.R. Smith's open-court aggressiveness, the team's 3-point shooting and Chandler as a terrific trailing finisher.
The name of the game is pace on the West Coast. Can the Knicks keep up?
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