When the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks last faced off, on December 21, fans left the game knowing that the legendary rivalry between both teams was back. Chicago won, despite a late comeback by New York, but not before Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah were all ejected. The Bulls thus took a 2-0 lead in the season series.
The Knicks will have a chance to get their revenge tonight, as the Bulls will return to Madison Square Garden for a nationally televised game. It will be the second of a back-to-back for New York, who are seeking to avoid a three-game losing streak after falling to the Pacers in Indianapolis on January 10.
Carmelo Anthony will be back in the lineup tonight after serving a one-game suspension, so the Knicks will be happy to have their leading scorer and best player back. They will still be a bit shorthanded due to some injuries, but not badly enough that they will be unable to compete.
Chicago also has a lot riding on tonight's game. The Bulls' January 9 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks snapped a three-game winning streak, and the team will look to its tough defensive mentality to shut down the Knicks tonight.
Based on the fireworks fans got to see last time, expect this game to be even more intense.
Time: Friday, January 11th, 8 p.m. EST
TV: ESPN, MSG, CSN Chicago
Records: Chicago Bulls (19-14) vs. New York Knicks (23-12)
Betting Line: Chicago (+4), New York (-4)
Injuries: Derrick Rose (knee, out), Kirk Hinrich (elbow, day-to-day), Iman Shumpert (knee, out), Rasheed Wallace (foot, out), Raymond Felton (finger, out), Marcus Camby (foot, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Will Third Time Be Charm For Knicks Against Bulls?
The Knicks have lost to the Bulls twice already this season, on December 8 and December 21, and to their credit, they kept both games close. Carmelo Anthony was out with a lacerated finger for the first game, and point guard Raymond Felton's 27 points (albeit on 9-of-30 shooting) plus 14 points and 18 rebounds from Tyson Chandler kept New York in the game despite a final score of 93-85.
Felton also kept the Knicks' comeback alive on the 21st, scoring 21 points down the stretch. Unfortunately, Anthony's ejection proved to be too much, as the Bulls won 110-106.
This game is going to be quite different, as the Knicks cannot rely on Felton to carry them in the event of Anthony being hurt, having a bad night, etc. The former Tar Heel is out recovering from a broken finger and likely won't be back before the end of the month.
Coming away with a win thus becomes all the more difficult for the Knicks. They are a deep and talented team, but the Bulls defense is notably stingy. Chicago ranks third in points allowed, at just under 92 points per contest, and New York must have a plan to outclass Tom Thibodeau's squad.
This means not relying solely on Anthony to do the work, though his leading the way is imperative, and getting other hot scorers like J.R. Smith and Steve Novak involved. Per usual, Tyson Chandler must be the defensive beast he has been ever since becoming a Knick.
It's going to be another close game, and based on the animosity that surfaced at Madison Square Garden the last time the two played each other, whoever can sustain their energy level longer will win.
Key Matchup: Carmelo Anthony vs. Luol Deng
With Felton out, the Knicks need Carmelo Anthony to be great, and then some. He has lived up to that standard this season, ranking second in scoring at 29 points per game. Anthony has also averaged 6.1 rebounds and shot 43 percent from long range.
Tonight's game will also be Anthony's first since serving a one-game suspension following an altercation with Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett after a Knicks loss on January 7. Whatever that fight was about, Anthony must put that and the suspension behind him in order to be the alpha dog on the court tonight.
The Knicks need him to score, defend and just be as clutch as possible from start to finish. Their attack starts and stops with him, and another off night could be catastrophic.
On Chicago's end, Luol Deng will be seeking to ensure that Anthony has another frustrating evening. Despite leading the league in minutes with 40.2 per game, the former Blue Devil has done a great job of stepping up his effort in Derrick Rose's absence.
Deng currently leads the Bulls with 17.4 points per game and has also posted 6.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals.
He is normally a slasher, but will have a hard time doing that against Anthony. In all likelihood, he will be forced into the post and take his fair share of contested shots. Similarly, he'll be playing pesky defense on Anthony and doing all he can to ensure that the former Syracuse Orange has another bad shooting night.
This will be tough, especially since Anthony is a master at creating his own shot and shooting with a hand in his face, but Deng must not back down. Constant vigilance is the way to defeat Anthony, and putting up that type of effort can definitely help swing the pendulum in Chicago's favor.
X-Factor: Steve Novak
With Felton out, it's clear that the Knicks' two go-to scorers will be Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. It would be nice to see Amar'e Stoudemire get into his old form and be the player who makes a difference, but he is still getting his legs back and readjusting to Woodson's system.
Thus, the Knicks could really use a big night from shooter Steve Novak. He is only averaging 7.5 points in 24.5 minutes off the bench this year, but he ranks fourth in three-point percentage at 44 percent.
New York would be in a great spot if he could hit at least a trio of threes tonight, maybe more because in games in which Novak scores in double figures, the Knicks are 8-1.
Just who ends up guarding Novak remains to be seen, but he already has the advantage. Like Anthony, he is great at shooting the ball with a hand in his face. Also, he has added a new aspect to his game this season.
Rather than just waiting in three-point territory and taking a shot when open, Novak has shown an ability to create a three-point shot off the dribble. He receives the ball in three-point territory and assesses his situation. If need be, he will take a step back with one dribble and then pull up for his shot.
Though a bench three-point threat, this makes him all the more valuable.
Novak cannot show any hesitation against a pesky Bulls defense tonight. He only has scored seven points against them this year and was 0-of-3 from the field the last time the teams played each other.
If he can get into a groove and put some points on the board in a hurry, then the Knicks can definitely pull off the victory.
One thing is certain. This game is going to be close from start to finish. One or both teams may go on a run at some point and widen the gap, but it will be quickly closed.
Tonight, it will be the Knicks' turn to come out on the winning end. They have not lost three games in a row all season long, and head coach Mike Woodson will have his men playing with an extra bounce in their step against a rival team. New York may look sluggish to start, as this is the second half of a back-to-back that began on the road, but the machine will eventually start running smoothly.
Carmelo Anthony will put the team on his back and have another excellent scoring night to some passionate "MVP!" chants. J.R. Smith and Tyson Chandler will pick up the slack right behind him, with Amar'e Stoudemire playing 20 minutes off the bench and taking another step forward in his return.
The Bulls will also put up a fine effort of their own. Luol Deng will find a way past Anthony's defense to drive the lane and draw some fouls, while Joakim Noah will man the paint with an iron fist. Even Carlos Boozer will turn in another fine performance.
Yet, it will be clutch shots from both Anthony and Steve Novak that send the Madison Square Garden crowd into a frenzy. The ensuing momentum will carry the Knicks to victory and prove once and for all that they are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
And Chicago will be left wondering just how long it will be before Derrick Rose returns.
New York Knicks 100, Chicago Bulls 94
All statistics in this article are accurate as of January 10, 2013.