Thunder (22-5, 9-4 road) vs. Knicks (9-18, 4-10 home)
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 108.2 (8th), Knicks – 104.2 (19th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 100.9 (4th), Knicks – 107.5 (24th)
Pace: Thunder – 96.9 (4th), Knicks – 90.1 (29th)
UPDATE: Carmelo Anthony is out today, the Knicks announced
Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden. Forget the Knicks’ record. This is pretty special. But it’s also a game in which the Thunder should handle their business, especially in the wake of Sunday’s disappointment. The Knicks surely would enjoy making their fans feel good for a bit on the holiday, but the Thunder need to make sure they aren’t in the giving mood. They need to be in a taking one.
Here’s the big danger: The Knicks are getting desperate. Well, they aren’t getting desperate. They are. Their coach is under fire, the fanbase is disgruntled and the players are frustrated and embarrassed. Teams like that go one of two ways in games like these. A) They crumble or B) they fight. The Knicks strike me as a team with pride, so I expect them to put up resistance against OKC to try and use this game as a springboard into turning around their season.
It’s not that the Thunder need to win this one, but they certainly would like to wash the taste of Sunday’s game out. The Thunder have well established what they are and what they’re capable of, but they do need to continue to build good habits and take care of their business. Plus, there’s little room for error at the top of the Western Conference.
New York coming in: Beat the Magic on Monday
Three Big Things
1. Melo vs. KD. To some, this is a matchup among equals, guys that are peers and maybe the top two pure scorers in the world. To anyone that can process simple statistics, it’s a matchup of an elite basketball player against a very good one. Durant is a better player — all-around, at scoring, at scoring in different ways, at defending, and on and on — but that’s not to subtract from how good Melo is and can be. When he starts feel his jab-step pull-up, he becomes a major problem. Especially with how he can bruise his way to second chance points on the offensive glass.
2. Backcourt probs. The Knicks basically have only one healthy point guard in the roster (Beno Udrih). While Iman Shumpert is a very solid perimeter defender, he can only defend one player at a time. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him start the game on Russell Westbrook while the Knicks hide Udrih on Thabo, so expect Scott Brooks to us Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson early and often in order to force Mik Woodson into a choice.
3. Smallballin’. The Knicks like to use Melo at the 4, especially now that they have Tyson Chandler back. The Thunder have no problem playing little, and it probably favors them even more. Serge Ibaka can handle Chandler fine and with Durant’s versatility, the Thunder can get four ball-handlers on the court to pressure the Knick defense. It also means that both Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire could have iffy roles because where do they fit outside of playing center? And can either defend Ibaka?
Tip at 1:30 CT. Go Santa Durant.