The Dallas Mavericks started the season slow, but have come into a run of form behind the play of Dirk Nowitzki and their improved defense which has not allowed 100 points in a game since January 29th (OT loss versus the Spurs).
This will be the first legitimate title contender the Knicks have played since their loss to the Chicago Bulls. The Knicks do have a knack for playing up to the competition (and sadly down to the competition as well), so that should make this game interesting.
Here are some things to look for in the game against Dallas:
Without Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks have become a worse offensive rebounding team.
They have not been able to replace Chandler's athleticism on the front line leading to them being 26th in the NBA in ORB%. That being said, the Mavericks do have an unorthodox threat to grab some rebounds in Shaw Marion.
Marion is looking much like "The Matrix" we saw in Phoenix that anchored the defense and cleaned up the boards. With Carmelo Anthony looking unlikely to come back against the Mavericks, it is critical that Bill Walker is able to consistently locate Marion and box him out.
Now with Tyson Chandler in the fold, look for the Knicks to dominate the offensive glass and get plenty of second chance opportunities. There is no one, on the Dallas front line, that can matchup with Chandler's size and athleticism.
As long as he stays out of foul trouble, look for him to have a huge day on both the offensive and defensive boards. The Knicks will need to be effect on the offensive boards to find success against this Mavericks defense.
Knicks Offense vs. Mavericks Defense
The Mavericks have played well defensively this year. In fact, they are third in the NBA in defensive rating. We also have seen that this team has no problems playing zone defense. Now while that does make them vulnerable to giving up offensive rebounds, it allows them to stop teams whose offense is based on dribble penetration.
What has led to the Knicks success on offense during Jeremy Lin's stint at point guard?
Look for the Mavericks to implement the zone defense and use a tag team combination of Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion to stifle Lin (think about it, without Carmelo Anthony, why not put your best defender on Lin and have Kidd on Fields and Terry on Walker?).
This means that the Knicks need to either destroy the Mavericks on the offensive glass or show they can hurt the Mavericks from the perimeter. That is the only way they can discourage the Mavericks from playing zone.
The Knicks shot 4-24 (16.6... %) from three. Many of those looks were wide open. If that happens, the Knicks will not win this game. The Knicks will need Bill Walker and Landry Fields to step up from the perimeter.
If they cannot, look for the Knicks to heavily rely on Steve Novak as their zone buster.
Another way the Knicks can combat the zone is running a 1-3-1 offensive set. This is where the guards are positioned normally at the top of the key and on the wings. You have a big at the foul line and the other big roaming the baseline.
This way, the guards at the top of the 2-3 have to respect the big at the foul line (preferably Stoudemire due to his jump shooting ability). That makes the wing players the responsibility of the two forwards at the bottom of the 2-3. If they come out, the wings get the ball to the big roaming the baseline. If they do not come out, the wing players need to knock down their shots.
That roaming big will also be in position to grab offensive rebounds (a price you pay playing a 2-3).
Finally, the Knicks need to hit their free throws. Unlike three of their last four games, they cannot afford to leave points on the table against the defending champions.
Jeremy Lin committed eight turnovers in the first half against the Hornets, but only committed one turnover in the second half.
To me, I see that as a sign of him adapting to what the defense is doing. Now, the Hornets attacked Jeremy Lin on the defensive end and made sure Lin got no clean looks at the basket.
That led to those turnovers in the first half.
Look for the Mavericks to mix it up by putting pressure on Lin on some trips and playing zone on the others. Lin must not look to force too much. If he looks for the home run pass against the Mavericks, we will see the turnovers pile up.
He needs to be more willing to pick his spots and take what the defense gives him. Also, Knicks' fans should take a step back and realize that Lin has played 642 minutes in his NBA career. That is about the equivalent of one-third of a starting rookie's season.
Therefore, he is going to have his ups and downs. He is going to have to make adjustments. He is going to grow as a player.
As Frank Sinatra sang, "The best is yet to come and, babe, won't it be fine?"
Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki
ESPN Dallas is reporting that Jason Terry is expected to play on Sunday. Therefore, the Knicks job on defense (especially in the 4th quarter) became that much harder.
Look for the Knicks to put Landry Fields on Jason Terry to start out the game. However, Terry's quickness could easily prove to be too much for Fields. If that is the case, look for Shumpert to play big minutes and minutes down the stretch if the outcome is still in question. On offense, if the Mavericks are playing man-to-man, Fields should look to take the 6' 2" Terry into the post and score over the top of him.
If the Mavericks are in zone, both Shumpert and Fields need to convert their wide open looks from the perimeter.
Dirk Nowitzki has been fantastic for the Mavericks during their winning streak, especially in the fourth quarter. The Knicks do not have anyone who can stop him, but they cannot make life easy for him. Amare Stoudemire cannot put forth the same poor defensive effort that he did against New Orleans.
If that is the case, then the Knicks should look to go with Jared Jeffries. It does not matter how well Amare plays on offense, he is a better scorer that Nowitzki. He needs compete on the defensive end. Without that effort on defense, even without Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks cannot afford to have Stoudemire on the floor.
Overall, this game with be a challenge for the Knicks especially without Carmelo and J.R. Smith (both of whom look ready to play on Monday).
It will also be another test for Jeremy Lin who will go up against one of the best defenses in the NBA. Unlike the Lakers, they will throw different looks at Lin to which he will have to adjust.
It looks to be another exciting and informative game at the Garden on Sunday.