The New York Knicks have lost three games in a row, and their road does not get any easier with a visit to the "Lob City" Los Angeles Clippers. The teams faced off at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 10, with Los Angeles pulling away in the fourth quarter en route to a victory.
Round 2 will be at the Staples Center, and the Knicks will have to overcome a rowdy LA crowd to try to beat this fast and explosive team. It also doesn't help that star forward and leading scorer Carmelo Anthony may miss this game after having his knee drained Thursday, and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler could be out after suffering a bruised knee against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.
That said, it doesn't look like the Knicks have much to be happy about once this game tips off. However, this game can indeed be won.
By coming together and rallying under one cause—pulling off the upset against the Clippers—New York can indeed win this game, whether they are shorthanded.
In which case, they'd have some much-needed momentum at their backs as the regular season enters its final weeks.
Time: Sunday, March 17, 3:30 p.m. ET
Records: New York Knicks (38-25) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (45-21)
Injuries: Eric Bledsoe (calf, day-to-day), Caron Butler (elbow, out), Rasheed Wallace (foot, out), Amar'e Stoudemire (knee, out), Tyson Chandler (knee, day-to-day), Carmelo Anthony (knee, day-to-day), Kenyon Martin (undisclosed, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Can Short-Handed Knicks Slow Down Lob City?
As mentioned before, the Clippers defeated the Knicks at MSG back on Feb. 10. Thanks to 25 points and seven assists from Chris Paul and 27 points from Jamal Crawford, the Clippers managed to break away in the fourth quarter and outscore New York 31-18 en route to a 102-88 victory.
Not even 42 points from Anthony could help the Knicks, and Round 2 will be more of an uphill battle. Anthony is anything but a lock to play, and the team could be without its star defender in Chandler.
However, the Knicks are still capable of pulling off an upset. Let's not forget that this is the same team that blew out the defending champion Miami Heat twice this season, on Nov. 2 and Dec. 6, and Anthony didn't play in one of those games.
Granted, the Knicks still had Chandler, but it shows just how capable this team is of uniting under tough circumstances. By committing to defense and refusing to have a defeatist attitude, New York can easily enter Lob City and walk out victorious.
Otherwise, it's just another bad loss that will not help the team down the stretch.
Key Matchup: Raymond Felton vs. Chris Paul
The Clippers' offense starts with star point guard and key playmaker Paul, who is tough to slow down under any circumstances. The six-time All-Star has averaged 16.6 points and 9.6 assists per game this season, plus a league-best 2.4 steals. He has also shot 48 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point range.
The former Wake Forest standout has been even more electrifying over his last five games, posting 20 points and 10 assists per contest while making 53 percent of his shots. Not only is Paul great at being a scoring threat in the Clippers' fast-paced offense, but he is also the team's best playmaker. Once he gets hot, there's no stopping him.
That's where New York's Felton comes in. He isn't as dynamic a floor general as Paul, but still manages to post decent numbers.
In his first season back with the Knicks since being dealt to the Denver Nuggets in the Anthony trade, Felton is averaging 14.5 points and 5.7 assists per game. He's only shooting 41 percent from the field and 35 percent from long range, but he has managed to play respectable on-ball defense when called upon, to the tune of 1.3 steals per game.
Felton has averaged 1.8 steals over his last five games, and he needs to be just as locked in against Paul. A fast-paced offense loses a large percentage of its bite without a reliable point guard, and Paul having a bad game combined with Felton taking over in the scoring department could easily be enough to swing the pendulum in the Knicks' favor.
If Paul can get past Felton, however, then the Knicks' chances of winning become much tougher.
X-Factor: Steve Novak
Assuming that Anthony and Chandler are unable to play, New York's go-to scorer will be sixth man J.R. Smith. As great as he has been this season, averaging 23.4 points and shooting 46 percent from long range over his last five games, he alone cannot carry the team.
This means that three-point specialist Steve Novak needs to be in top form off the bench, as a good game from him can help the Knicks keep up with the Clippers' offense. This season, Novak has shot 42 percent from long range.
Though only a role player, Novak is much more important to the Knicks than most give him credit for. In games in which he has scored in double figures, New York is 13-2.
It also helps that Novak has shown improvement in notable areas this season. Instead of just being a wide-open three-point threat, he has improved his mid-range jumper as well as his ability to create off the dribble.
That entire skillset will need to be on display in Los Angeles. Novak must make his threes as well as his mid-range shots, not to mention be willing to create his own opportunities. By just being passive and waiting for the ball in three-point territory, he's not going to be doing himself nor the Knicks any favors.
The man simply needs to be the electrifying shooter that Knicks fans fell in love with last season. If he can get a hot hand, New York has a chance.
Otherwise, the odds of winning against Los Angeles on the road become much slimmer.
Predicted Starting Lineups:
PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Iman Shumpert
SF: Chris Copeland
PF: Kurt Thomas
C: Marcus Camby
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Chauncey Billups
SF: Matt Barnes
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
The Knicks would love to have this game, but it's just not going to happen. The team has proven time and time again this season that it cannot defend teams that like to run, and the Clippers are no exception.
The game won't be a blowout, but one thing is certain: The Clippers will be in control from start to finish.
Paul will have a great scoring game and rack up some assists thanks to thunderous dunks from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, while Crawford is a spark off the bench once again.
New York will get decent production out of Smith and Felton, but Marcus Camby will not provide the same explosive nature above the rim that Chandler does. The lack of solid scoring from an absent Anthony and a merely average performance from Novak will only be the icing on the cake.
Lob City will thus come away with the win, leaving the Knicks wondering just how to right the ship before the playoffs start.
Los Angeles Clippers 108, New York Knicks 95