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W2W4: Knicks at Raptors

3/22/2013

The New York Knicks have a chance to accomplish something Friday night that they haven't done in more than 10 years: clinch a playoff berth for the third straight season.

If the Knicks beat Toronto, they'll clinch a playoff berth. One more Raptors loss will clinch a berth for the Knicks.

The Knicks have made the playoffs the past two seasons -- since both Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire came to town.

The Knicks haven't made the postseason in three straight years since 1999 to 2001.

The Knicks are in first place in the Atlantic and 14 games over .500, but somehow they haven’t yet figured out how to beat the lowly Toronto Raptors this season.

New York is 0-2 against Landry Fields & Co. It will try to remedy that Friday night on the road against the Raptors. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

Here are a few things to watch:

MELO’S KNEE: Anthony said he felt no pain in his bothersome right knee after playing 33 minutes against Orlando on Wednesday.

That's a good sign for the Knicks, but Friday’s game presents a different challenge.

It is the first game of a back-to-back, so it will be interesting to see how Anthony’s knee responds over the next two games. It will also be interesting to see whether Mike Woodson limits his star's minutes to keep him fresh for Saturday's game.

Anthony missed three games recently after having fluid drained from the knee. He looked great in his first game back, scoring 21 points in 33 minutes in a win over the Magic. After the game, Anthony said his knee pain first became prohibitive after playing a back-to-back early this month. So I'm curious to see how Anthony's knee responds to the Knicks' back-to-back this weekend.

BENCH BOOST? Outside of Carmelo, the Knicks' starting five doesn’t exactly instill fear in the heart of opposing defenses.

But the bench is a different story.

Led by J.R. Smith (21.4 PPG in the past 10 games), the Knicks feature one of the top reserve units in the NBA. New York’s bench has a per-game average of 40.9 points per game, the second-highest in the league.

That should give the Knicks a big edge against Toronto. The Raptors’ bench has been outscored by a combined 64 points in the past two games (losses to the Bobcats and Heat).

BOARD WORK: Another thing to keep an eye on Friday is the Knicks’ rebounding and interior scoring.

With Tyson Chandler, Stoudemire, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace out, New York’s front line is woefully thin. So opponents will try to take advantage in the paint and around the rim.

Injuries aside, however, frontcourt play has been somewhat of a weakness all season for the Knicks. They rank last in the NBA in rebounding differential (minus 1.3) and points in the paint (33.3).

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