While the Kings are a poorly assembled group of young talent, they have played well in February. They have gone 4-3 in the month with wins over the Seatt...my bad...Oklahoma City Thunder and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Here are some things to look for when watching the game.
Jeremy Lin's Energy
Linsanity has been an amazing ride; however, the minutes he is playing should alarm Knicks fans. Against the Toronto Raptors last night, Jeremy Lin played 43 minutes. In each of his starts, he has played at least 35 minutes.
Before he became the starter, he played more than 20 minutes only three times in his career. He has only played more than 6:36 only once this season before this incredible run.
This is why Baron Davis remains an important member of the Knicks. If he can give the Knicks 15 minutes a night off the bench, then Lin can consistently have his minutes in the low 30s.
The Knicks have seen Chris Duhon and Raymond Felton wear down as they were having career seasons. Lin will probably look a lot like he did against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He may play a quality first quarter or first half, but look for him to show serious signs of fatigue by the third quarter. Lin will probably have six or more turnovers and have DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson block many of his shots in the paint.
It is up to the rest of the Knicks team to pick up where they left off in the fourth quarter and make up for Lin's fatigue. Unless Mike D'Antoni finds a way to rein in Lin's minutes, fatigue looks to be the biggest obstacle in Lin's way.
If you have read my previous Knicks previews, this is going to sound like a broken record. However, especially with Amar'e replacing Jared Jeffries, there are going to be questions about the Knicks overall ability to rebound. Not only that, but the Kings are the second-best offensive rebounding team in the NBA. Only the Chicago Bulls are better. Not only that, but the Kings are one of the worst jump shooting teams in the NBA (24th in 3PG% and 30th in FG%).
That makes it doubly important that the Knicks clean up the defensive glass. The last thing you want to give a poor jump shooting team are second opportunities and easy putbacks.
Also, giving up offensive rebounds increases the likelihood that the Knicks big men will get into foul trouble. In particular, if Tyson Chandler gets into foul trouble, look for DeMarcus Cousins to run riot in Madison Square Garden.
With the Knicks coming off a back-to-back, their tired legs will be evident in their jump shooting. Those offensive rebounds will help make up for some fatigued shooting performance.
Pack the Paint
Jimmer Fredette is the only solid perimeter shooter on the Kings and he may or may not play tonight due to illness. This means that the Knicks should sag off on defense and clog the paint. The wing players of the Kings (Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans) are slashers. Look for them try and drive past the Knicks perimeter defenders.
Also, this game could play out similarly to what happened against Toronto. With Evans' strength and athleticism, in addition to Jeremy Lin's fatigue, Evans might abuse Lin the same way Jose Calderon did (except do not expect him to hit the jumpers Calderon did).
If that happens, the Knicks need to turn to their defensive dynamo, Iman Shumpert. His defense on Calderon completely changed the outcome of the game last night. He has all the tools to lock up on Evans and keep him out of the paint.
With the other perimeter players on the Kings, I would advise that the Nick Young Doctrine be put into effect. What is the Nick Young Doctrine? It calls for the defenders to devote all their energy to giving a player the contested long two knowing that the player will take that shot more times than not. This strategy is at its best when used against Nick Young (shot of Wizards fans nodding).
Obviously, you want to force teams into contested long twos, but the poor shot selection of the Kings makes it easy. The Knicks should play far back enough to stop the drive but close enough to be able to close out. That should entice players like John Salmons to shoot and destroy the rhythm and efficiency of the offense.
Biggest Issue for the Knicks Against the Kings
If it is Stoudemire, then look for the Knicks to double almost every time. When it does not happen, look for Cousins to outmuscle Stoudemire for his points. If Chandler is on Cousins, then look for a mix of double-teaming and letting Chandler defend one-on-one.
When the Knicks double, they should try to have the additional defender take away the middle of the paint and have Chandler/Amar'e cut off the baseline. This should be the strategy, especially when Cousins is on the left block. If the Knicks force him away from the middle, then he will have to finish with his left hand as opposed to his favored right hand.
While the Knicks struggled shooting the ball from the perimeter, finishing at the rim and showed questionable shot selection in the beginning of the year, they got to the free-throw line and nailed their free throws. The last three games, the Knicks have shot 62.6 percent (52 of 84) from the free-throw line.
The Knicks cannot leave points off the scoreboard like that. It either prevents them from putting teams away or causes them to dig a bigger hole for themselves when they fall behind. Hopefully, it was just a three-game patch of ineptitude because if it becomes a trend, then this team has little chance to be successful in the playoffs.
The Sacramento Kings do present some problems for the Knicks. Their ability to rebound, their ability to beat defenders off the dribble and the recent form of DeMarcus Cousins, with the combination of Lin's fatigue, could lead to the end of the Knicks six-game winning streak.
However, given what we have seen from this Knicks team, they will at least hang around because of their never-say-die attitude. It is an attitude that starts with their new point guard.