Following a 20-point blowout of the Miami Heat on December 6, the New York Knicks will head north to the Windy City to face the Chicago Bulls Saturday. Chicago has played fairly well in the absence of star point guard Derrick Rose, and is currently tied with the Indiana Pacers for first place in the Central Division.
They have a tough test in the New York Knicks, who are currently the top team in the Eastern Conference. As was just mentioned, New York just defeated Miami for the second time this season, and without star forward Carmelo Anthony. His status for this game is uncertain, as he has a lacerated finger that kept him out against Miami, but the Knicks handily proved that they could win without their superstar.
Just the same, that isn't reason for them to put in a lesser effort against the Bulls. Chicago has been the top regular season team in the NBA for the past two seasons, and probably would be at or near the top this year if Rose were not injured.
Chicago's defense has not subsided in its star's absence, and the team currently ranks first in points allowed per game and sixth in assists per contest. Even without Rose, everyone is clearly committed to a team effort.
New York will still be riding the momentum from its victory in Miami into Chicago, and stop at nothing to extend its winning streak to six games. For the short-handed Bulls, this will make for one of their toughest games of the season, and one in which a win could inject some life into the locker room.
Time: Saturday, December 8, 8:00 p.m. EST
TV: MSG, WGN
Records: New York Knicks (14-4) vs. Chicago Bulls (10-8)
Betting Lines: New York (-2), Chicago (+2), via Sportsbook
Injuries: Carmelo Anthony (finger, questionable), Iman Shumpert (knee, out), Marcus Camby (foot, out), Richard Hamilton (foot, out), Derrick Rose (knee, out)
Key Storyline: Can Anyone Stop the Red-Hot Knicks?
The Knicks enter this game on a five-game winning streak, and have the momentum to make it six. The team also has the overall depth to make any game a close one, and a tough defensive Bulls team will help keep it so.
There are already some fireworks between both teams that date back to last season. On April 8, New York came back to beat Chicago in overtime by a score of 100-99. Carmelo Anthony sank the game-winning three-pointer, and it was a great win for the Knicks.
The Bulls ended up winning the next meeting two days later, but New York's win established them as a team that could potentially do some damage in the near future.
Such has been the case this season, as the Knicks are the best in the Eastern Conference. Even more incredible is that the team is showing no signs of slowing down. No matter who their opponent is, they play a great game and stop at nothing to come away with a win.
It will be the Bulls' turn tonight, as they look to take advantage of the potential absence of Carmelo Anthony and use their defense to shut the Knicks down. Chicago is the Windy City, and both the team and its fans will try and make the fiery Knicks cool off for just one game.
Key Matchup: Tyson Chandler vs. Joakim Noah
Both the Bulls and the Knicks play a tough defensive game, and whoever plays it better will come out on top tonight. This means that the war in the paint is going to be the decisive one. The only problem is that both teams' centers are so unbelievably talented, that calling a winner is near-impossible.
The Knicks have a slight advantage in that their man at the 5 is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler. The man has continued his fine play this season, averaging 12.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, and he is also leading the NBA in field goal percentage. Over his past five games, Chandler has averaged 15 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, further establishing himself as one of the league's most dominant centers.
However, against the Bulls, Chandler could be in for a long night. He will be matched up against the young and tenacious Joakim Noah, who has been having a fine season of his own.
Noah has done a great job stepping up in Rose's absence, averaging 13 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.
Chandler has a slight height advantage at 7'1", compared to the 6'11" Noah, but the former Florida Gator never backs down from a battle in the paint. He can use his athleticism to box out Chandler, giving the Knicks a disadvantage in the rebounding department.
More importantly, Noah has the hometown crowd behind him, and they will not show Chandler any mercy. Chandler spent the first five seasons of his career with the Bulls after being chosen with the second pick in the 2001 draft, and was never the dominant defensive center there as he is with the Knicks now.
As a member of the Bulls, Chandler averaged just 7.1 points and just 7.7 rebounds per game in five years before being dealt to the New Orleans Hornets.
Noah will thus be out to prove that he owns Chicago, playing stingy defense on Chandler from start to finish and not backing down from a single battle. Both teams play amazing defense, which should make for a great matchup between these two.
X-Factor: Raymond Felton
Assuming Anthony is out for this game, it will be up to Felton to carry the offense once again. He did a fine job of that against Miami, scoring 27 points and dishing out seven assists. Felton also drained six three-pointers and had two steals.
Felton has done well in head coach Mike Woodson's system, averaging 15.9 points and 6.9 assists while making 42 percent of his three-pointers as well. He is perfect for the Knicks' new isolation system, and last year's underwhelming performance with the Portland Trail Blazers is slowly becoming a distant memory.
The former Tar Heel should be at a great advantage in Chicago. He will likely be guarded by Kirk Hinrich, who has never been much of a defensive guard in nine NBA seasons and whose best skills are behind the three-point line.
This gives Felton a prime advantage on offense. He can create off the dribble, drive the lane, pretty much do anything since Hinrich and the rest of the Bulls' backcourt do not play particularly strong defense.
He must be willing to score points and also create plays, be it a no-look pass to Chandler or a dish to a deadly shooter in Steve Novak.
Without Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire or Iman Shumpert, Felton is behind the wheel on offense, and a solid performance from him means a better chance at the Knicks' streak extending to six.
The Bulls have everything necessary to put a cap on the Knicks' winning streak tonight, but it unfortunately will not happen. Too many key players are injured, and the team's offense cannot rely solely on the scoring of Luol Deng to get by. Carlos Boozer is not the same dominant force he was in the prime of his career, and both Noah and Nate Robinson are too unpredictable on offense to be considered prime go-to guys.
As a result, the Knicks will leave the United Center as owners of a six-game winning streak.
Granted, the Bulls will put up a great defensive effort to stop the Knicks. Even in victory, the Knicks will have a tough time making their shots fall with or without Carmelo Anthony on the court.
Who will win?
Noah will do a fine job of containing Chandler, and Deng will take Ronnie Brewer's limited offense out of the game. Felton, though he will likely lead the Knicks in scoring again if Anthony is out, will struggle to make shots consistently thanks to Chicago's top-ranked defense.
Just the same, his effort combined with those of his teammates will help the Knicks take control in the second half. They will draw fouls, sink threes, have great defensive possessions and just do everything that an NBA team needs to do in a close game.
The Bulls will put up a respectable effort, but it just won't be enough against the seemingly unstoppable New York Knicks.
New York Knicks 95, Chicago Bulls 91