The New York Knicks have struggled to defend the pick-and-roll all season long, so their nationally televised game against the Lob City Los Angeles Clippers is going to be quite the test. Los Angeles is coming off a crushing loss to the Miami Heat on February 8, while New York has shown porous pick-and-roll defense its past two games.
Just the same, the Knicks have won five of six and will be out to keep up their successful run. This is a team that wants to usurp Miami for the top spot in the Eastern Conference badly, and it will stop at nothing to do so.
For the Clippers, this game is about getting back on the winning track. Star point guard Chris Paul is finally back in the lineup after missing a dozen games with a bruised knee, so the fast-paced action of Lob City has the key tool to being back in action.
The battle of offense vs. defense is thus set to go down, with the feisty Clippers out for a big win over the tough and experienced Knicks.
Time: Sunday, February 10th, 1 p.m. EST
Records: Los Angeles Clippers (35-17) vs. New York Knicks (32-16)
Betting Line: Not available as of Saturday, February 9, 9:21 a.m. EST
Injuries: Trey Thompkins (knee, out) Matt Barnes (hand, day to day), Rasheed Wallace (foot, out), Marcus Camby (foot, out), via ESPN
Key Storyline: Can Knicks Defense Come Together to Stop Lob City?
The Knicks have had issues guarding the pick-and-roll all season long, but their past two games made it clear just how bad the team's perimeter defense can be at times. From losing to the lowly Washington Wizards and giving up 106 points on February 6 to just barely defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 8, it's clear that an adjustment has to be made.
With no impending moves in the wings, the team will have to make do with what it has against Los Angeles. It helps the Knicks that the Clippers have struggled as of late, going 3-7 over their last 10 games, but the return of Chris Paul cannot be taken lightly. Yes, he may have to shake off some rust, but the fact remains that he is still among the best point men in the NBA and the one who makes the Clippers great.
This means that no matter what happens, the Knicks have to be tough on defense from the get-go. If it means using the full-court press in the first quarter, so be it. If they need to drive the lane and draw fouls over using their mid-range game, that's fine.
The fact of the matter is that Los Angeles' approach is one that New York has struggled to defend all season long, and head coach Mike Woodson needs to have a plan in place so that his team's greatest weakness is not exposed come playoff time.
Key Matchup: Tyson Chandler vs. DeAndre Jordan
The Knicks need to make defense the name of the game against the Clippers, and a great effort from Tyson Chandler in the paint can get the ball rolling there. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year has picked up right where he left off last season, being an absolute force on both sides of the floor. Chandler is averaging 11.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and a block per game this season, and is also leading the league in field-goal percentage, having made 67 percent of his shots.
Chandler has only made 53 percent of his attempts his last five games, and has only posted 8.2 points over that stretch. However, his interior defense has been off the charts to the tune of 16 boards per contest.
That type of tenacity is going to be needed against Los Angeles, who has the ever-tough DeAndre Jordan manning the 5. Jordan is only 6'11", 265 pounds compared to the 7'1", 240-pound Chandler, but he has proven to be an excellent low-post presence and if he's on the receiving end of a lob, hold onto your hats!
Jordan has averaged just 9.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks this season, but has been much better over his last five games. Over that stretch, he has posted 11.4 points and 11.2 rebounds, working the restricted area with a fierce attitude and refusal to back down.
Simply put, Chandler's job is going to be to neutralize Jordan. He is the man behind Los Angeles' interior defense, and the Knicks' All-Star center must expose his raw offensive game and force him to actually work for a basket instead of just rise up for a dunk.
Similarly, Jordan must communicate with his teammates and be sure to go for a dunk whenever possible, taking advantage of the Knicks' slow nature against the pick-and-roll.
The battle can easily become a stalemate, but not if either man can gain just the slightest upper hand.
X-Factor: J.R. Smith
Just how Jamal Crawford is a bench spark for the Clippers, J.R. Smith is the exact same for the Knicks. Both men will need to be great in this game, especially Smith, who has shown both hot and cold flashes as New York's sixth man this season.
Smith is averaging 16.2 points and five rebounds per game, but cold stretches have his field-goal percentage at just 40 percent and he has made just 34 percent of his threes. His last five games, however, have shown a different player.
Through that stretch, Smith is averaging 17.2 points and shooting 44 percent from the field as well as 39 percent from downtown. This can be attributed to him not only looking to be a force from beyond the arc, but on the inside and with his mid-range jumper as well.
Smith has done a great job this season of improving his off-the-dribble game, from creating his own shot to just being more consistent from mid-range. It has made him a more complete player, and the Knicks will need his new versatility to shine against Los Angeles.
This means driving the lane and drawing fouls on top of using his jump shot. It means not being afraid to take a contested shot.
Moreover, it means that Smith must not be afraid of being great. He's been nothing but clutch for the Knicks all season long, and this game against the Clippers should be no exception. If he can make his shots consistently, then New York's odds of winning greatly increase.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Willie Green
SF: Caron Butler
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Jason Kidd
SF: Iman Shumpert
PF: Carmelo Anthony
C: Tyson Chandler
This game is going to be incredibly close, as the clash of offense and defense explodes into one epic Sunday afternoon extravaganza. When the dust settles, only one team will be left standing.
In this case, that team will be the Knicks.
Pick your winner!
Don't get me wrong. The Clippers are going to put up a great effort and may even hold the lead for an extended period of time. However, their rustiness against a Miami Heat team that was missing both Chris Bosh and Ray Allen due to illness was enough to sway this game in New York's favor.
After a first half that sees the teams go back and forth on the scoreboard, thanks to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin connecting multiple times, the Knicks will come alive in the second half. Carmelo Anthony will sink some key shots, and Tyson Chandler will be on the receiving end of lobs from Raymond Felton.
However, the man of the hour will be J.R. Smith. Not only will he hit a wide-open three-pointer that sends the rabid Madison Square Garden crowd into a frenzy, but he will also do a fine job of mixing up his game so that the Clippers are always guessing. Given the team's overall youth, this will work to Smith's advantage.
It's going to be a great game overall, but there can be only one winner. That honor goes to New York this time, while the Clippers are left wondering how to right the ship.
New York Knicks 106, Los Angeles Clippers 101