Facing Chicago without his point guard, Mike Woodson has a conundrum on his hands.
The Knicks have already lost twice to the Bulls this season. Playing without Carmelo Anthony, they dropped their first meeting at Chicago, 93-85. When they later hosted the Bulls, the Knicks were healthy by their standards, but the Bulls still pulled out a 110-106 win.
According to Al Iannazzone of Newsday, Felton hopes to return from his broken pinkie by the end of January, which isn't a moment too soon for the Knicks. Since Felton's injury, the Knicks' offense has lacked a dimension, sorely missing his ability to open up the offense with his quickness and penetration.
Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni have both been solid contributors for the Knicks this season, but neither has the skill set to replace Felton. In his old age, Kidd is too slow to consistently create off penetration, while Prigioni is not a strong enough finisher to suck in the defense when he drives.
However, there still is one guy who can slash into the teeth of the defense and score: J.R. Smith.
Smith has been very effective running the pick-and-roll this season. He has the explosiveness and the handle to get into the lane at will, and he can score at the rim as well as any guard in the league. Defenses hedge towards Smith when he drives, allowing him to surprise opponents by adeptly finding his open shooters on the perimeter.
Against the Bulls, establishing Smith as a pick-and-roll threat will make everything else easier for the Knicks.
With the Bulls set to key on Anthony, Woodson should work the ball through Smith early. Tom Thibodeau's team is superb at covering the pick-and-roll, but Smith is quietly one of the best in the league at running the play.
If he can find some success early, he'll be able to open up Melo and the Knicks' other perimeter options, setting up an inside-out attack.
Driving at Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson is one of the hardest things you can do on the basketball court, but that's exactly what Woodson must try to do. He knows the Chicago's defense will try to dominate the game, so he mustn't allow the Bulls to do what they want out there.
You don't beat the Chicago Bulls by letting them do what they want on defense. Playing shorthanded, Woodson is going to have to attack their greatest strength, and to do that, he's going to have to trust J.R. Smith's ability to create.
Stats accurate as of Jan. 11, 2013.