Monday, January 16, 2012
W2W4: Knicks vs. Magic
By Jared Zwerling
Trade talk will unquestionably heat up on Monday as the Amare Stoudemire-for-Dwight Howard rumors will echo through the Garden at 1 p.m. Obviously everyone is entertaining that thought right now. There hasn't been a single report of a real development. What is credible is that the Magic are on a three-game winning streak, and Superman is coming off a monster 45-point, 23-rebound game Thursday night against the Warriors. In Orlando's win, Howard broke Wilt Chamberlain's record for most free throw attempts (39).
What is also credible is that Carmelo Anthony is questionable for Monday's game with a sprained right ankle. Anthony tested the injury by running in a pool on Sunday afternoon, and he planned to run on the court later in the evening. He will be reevaluated today, prior to the Knicks-Magic tip-off.
Here are three things to watch for today at the Garden:
1.) SAME STARTING FIVE AS SATURDAY?
Before the Thunder game, Mike D'Antoni made the last-minute change naming Mike Bibby his starting point guard and moving Iman Shumpert to the two, therefore demoting Landry Fields to the bench for the first time this season. But should D'Antoni reconsider on Monday? That's because Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook completely outplayed Bibby and nearly finished with a triple-double (21 points, eight assists and eight rebounds).
With Magic point guard Jameer Nelson stepping on to the Garden floor today, D'Antoni might want to put the defensive specialist Shumpert back at the one. The rookie is among the NBA leaders in steals per game (2.2), and Nelson has the ability to run circles around the Knicks and cause havoc. Even though Nelson is only averaging 7.9 points and 5.4 assists per game this season, he said late last week that he's feeling healthier and getting more adjusted to the Magic's offense. By the sound of it, his coming-out game this season is on its way. The Knicks better hope to prevent that from happening on Monday.
Speaking of Shumpert, he can also help the team offensively if he can regain his shooting form and not go 5-for-15, 5-for-20 or 3-for-10 from the field, which he's done the past three games.
2.) HOW WILL THE KNICKS DEFEND DWIGHT?
The last time Tyson Chandler faced off against D-Howard, he fouled out in 23 minutes as the Mavericks lost to the Magic, 117-107, on Jan. 8, 2011. Howard went for 23 points and 13 rebounds in the game, while Chandler had just six points and seven rebounds. Howard can easily eliminate the opponent's center from the game with his size, strength and around-the-rim skills, so Chandler is a crucial component to the Knicks' success today.
The question is: Will the Knicks devise a game plan to have Chandler defend Superman solo or send double teams at the game's most dominant down-low presence? ESPN NBA analyst and former NBA player Tim Legler said recently that teams should look to isolate Howard, even if that means he'll have a big performance. That way, it will prevent his teammates from going off as well. Keep in mind the Magic are money from downtown -- this season, they're second in the league in 3-pointers made (110) and 3-point percentage (40.9) -- a trend they've kept going every year from the attention their big man gets. Howard's Achilles heel is his subpar ball-handling, so the Knicks need to facilitate sudden blitzes at him to throw off his dribbling.
3.) WATCH OUT FOR THE MAGIC'S J'S!
That would be two J's, as in Magic sharpshooter J.J. Redick. With the team's starting two guard Jason Richardson likely out today with a bone bruise in his left knee suffered Thursday against the Warriors, Redick could be named his replacement. The former Dukie is already a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, as he's averaging a career-high 12.2 points per game. In fact, that's more than Richardson (11.1 ppg). Redick is arguably the better 3-point marksman as well, so the Knicks will have to be extra vigilant on their defensive rotations. Talk it up, fellas! No threes!