The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotational curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.
The New York Knicks: Surviving in Spite of Injury...for the Moment
New York's Monday night win over Milwaukee sans Amar'e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin and Jared Jeffries was impressive (though hardly galvanizing; the Knicks' offensive performance didn't inspire much confidence), but the Knicks' schedule is about to ramp up without regard for their injury troubles.
Lin should be back in the lineup soon enough, but New York will badly miss both Stoudemire and Jeffries, as the upcoming slate features games against top offenses and defenses alike. In the next two weeks alone, the Knicks will play Chicago and Orlando twice each, along with solo games against Indiana and Cleveland.
Factor in some potential time missed for Carmelo Anthony (who suffered a minor groin injury on Monday), and it's easy to see this stretch of important games ending in disaster for the newly Mike Woodson-ed Knicks.
Complications across the Atlantic Division have opened the door for New York to make a run, but the very fates themselves—or at least, the NBA's schedule-makers—seem to be working against the good ol' Knickerbockers at a time of particular vulnerability.
The Rockets are Still Getting Killed Inside
The Houston Rockets are a completely mediocre defensive team, but they manage fairly well against any opponent that doesn't have a legitimate interior threat.
Hence why a seemingly easy game against the Sacramento Kings turned out to be far more than the Rockets bargained for; DeMarcus Cousins exploded for 38 points (15-26 FG) and 14 rebounds, and while Cousins is no slouch, his outburst is fairly representative of the Rockets' biggest defensive problem.
According to NBA.com, Houston allows more points in the paint than all but two other teams—a statistical nugget that, in this case, is rooted in specific defensive weakness rather than systemic concession or stylistic idiosyncrasy.
As long as the Cousinses of the world (and the Bynums, Randolphs, Gasols, Jeffersons, Millsaps, etc.) stay far, far away, Houston has a shot to make things interesting in a potential playoff series. But with its current system and personnel, any quality opponent with a consistent low-block threat is practically a death knell.
(For what it's worth, the Rockets were able to pull out this particular game in overtime—so at least they have that going for them.)
The Outright Necessity of Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson
Some of the Orlando Magic's earlier struggles this season can be traced to the poor play of Jameer Nelson (keyword: some—Nelson can't exactly be blamed for the team's collective defensive issues), making it only natural in the scope of the Magic's season that another crucial rotation player would regress just as Nelson had started to string together some solid performances.
Hedo Turkoglu hasn't yet hit any valley on par with Nelson's lowest 2012 lows, but over the last five games, he's averaged a mere 7.6 points and 4.4 assists per contest—numbers unfortunately indicative of his lack of offensive influence.
In order to maximize their offensive potential, the Magic need both Turk and Nelson operating on at least an average level in total. Obviously, both players won't be able to have strong performances in every game, but as a duo, their collective ability to create shots for Orlando's offense is absolutely essential.
We've seen in the past how Orlando can function with both creators rolling, but thanks to Nelson and Turkoglu's impeccably timed trade-offs this season, we have yet to really see what this particular team is capable of.
There may be the slightest hope for the Magic yet—supposing these two can line up their schedules.