Unlike the Cavaliers, who entered the Garden Sunday night 3-0 against the Knicks this season, New York's opponent tonight, the Raptors, will take the court 0-3 against them. It's been nearly four months since the Knicks last faced the Raptors, a 113-110 win on December 8, when one of the craziest shots you'll ever see was the game's dagger. Raymond Felton did a spin move on Raptors point guard Jose Calderon on the right wing, stepped back and launched a 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds to go. The ball hit the front rim, then rolled around the rim, hit the back rim a few times and then finally went in with 2.7 seconds left.
Since then, the ball hasn't bounced the Raptors' way at all. Their 55 losses are the most since the 2005-06 season (also 55), and to make matters worse, they've been playing their last couple of games without two of their star players: Calderon (hamstring injury) and power forward Andrea Bargnani (sore right ankle). There's only one disclaimer: Toronto's coming off a 102-98 win against the Magic on Sunday, so they're not going to fall gracefully tonight.
Here are three things to watch for when the ball is tipped at the Garden.
THE RAPTORS' BABY (BUT EXPLOSIVE) BACKCOURT
Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and point guard Jerryd Bayless are young enough to have just played in the NCAA Tournament. But DeRozan, 21, and Bayless, 22, are currently the two leading scorers for the Raptors, since Bargnani has been sidelined. In the team's past there games, DeRozan's been averaging 23.3 points (for the season he's at 16.8 ppg) and in the past two games, Bayless' been averaging 24.5 points (he's an 8.0 ppg scorer). Bayless has already had a big game against the Knicks. In a loss on December 5, he had 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists. DeRozan is one of the most athletic young players in the league (he has a 38.5" vertical leap) and Bayless has the ability to shoot lights out. In that December 5 game, he was 5-of-7 from downtown (both career-highs).
DON'T DO WHAT THE MAGIC DID ...
When the Raptors beat the Magic on Sunday, they outrebounded them by 18 (48 to 30). After the game, Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy was unimpressed with his team's performance, saying, "We certainly didn’t even try to turn it on tonight." Being that the Knicks are already a poor rebounding team (they are 10th-worst at 40.5 per game), and sometimes lack consistent energy and focus, it's important that they don't lose any steam riding from their current three-game winning streak. Because if not, the Raptors will claw all game, from starting center Ed Davis (he's collected 11 rebounds in three of the past five games) to Reggie Evans off the bench (he had 17 boards vs. the Magic).
... AND DON'T ALLOW ANY RUNS
Even though the Knicks knocked off the Cavaliers Sunday night, they allowed them to come back from 21 down in the second quarter to cut the deficit to two in the third. This season, the Knicks have been "The Run-Friendly Team." One of the reasons you can look at is because they don't have a reliable post-up (and defensive) player, they can't dump the ball down low to catch a quick breather on offense. Without having that big man who can draw double-teams, the Knicks have to instead constantly attack and move the ball to create scoring opportunities, which expends some energy and, therefore, affects keeping opponents in check on the defensive end for around 40 minutes a game. Without that missing piece, the Knicks are a 25- to 30-minute good defensive team. But for once, it would be nice if the Knicks could put away the Raptors from the start and never have to look back. Playing Toronto provides that opportunity.
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