If history is destined to repeat itself, the New York Knicks are in trouble.
Last season, Carmelo Anthony's Knicks couldn't muster a single victory against the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls. They dropped all four games they played against Tom Thibodeau's stingy defense. All four were determined by single digits; none of them made you feel as if the Knicks stood a viable chance.
On Thursday, the Knicks, who have lost five straight against the Bulls and seven of the last eight, look to buck a frustrating trend. To do so, they'll have to steal one in Chicago, where they haven't won since December 2010.
Tonight will also mark Rose's first meaningful home game since April 2012. He was underwhelming in his regular-season debut, but with the home crowd behind him, the stage is set for him to have one of those magical performances we have grown so accustomed to.
Chicago. New York. It's one of the most underrated rivalries in the NBA. With both teams still looking to assert their dominance as Eastern Conference powers early on, that stands to change.
If you think the Knicks will permit Raymond Felton to defend Derrick Rose, you're crazier than James Dolan with a banjo in his hand.
Felton is a defensive disaster. While quick, he defends pick-and-rolls like a poor man's Gumby.
Ideally, the Knicks would place Iman Shumpert on Chicago's explosive point man. Shump is the team's best perimeter defender next to Metta World Peace and, as a younger gun, is better suited to rival the athleticism of Rose.
Continuing to run small—as they should—won't allow the Knicks to force such a matchup. Putting Shump on Rose would leave Pablo Prigioni and Felton to defend Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng. That's not going to happen.
Look for the full-court press disciple himself, Prigioni, to match up with Rose. Prig is deceptively quick at 36 and a defensive nuisance. At minimum, he'll crowd Rose in the backcourt and shave seconds off Chicago's shot clock.
But Rose isn't like most point guards. Post-ACL injury, he's faster and more aggressive than anyone Prig will have to defend this year. An inability to keep pace with him will compel Mike Woodson to visit his bench quicker than usual, abandoning small ball and going "big" in hopes of creating a more favorable defensive assignment.
Either way, the Knicks are going to have their hands full. Rose will make sure of it.
Chicago is supposed to be an Eastern Conference powerhouse and the biggest threat to Miami Heat's rule. On opening night against the Heat, however, they played more like an overmatched stepping stone.
Rose shot 4-of-15 from the floor, notching just 12 points. Luol Deng made just two shots and missed all five of his threes. Joakim Noah botched dunks and layups that Miami wasn't contesting. And the Bulls as a team fired 26 long balls, connecting on only seven of them.
No matter, though. Those were the Heat, the reigning champions. The Bulls staged a comeback in the end before dropping a game they were supposed to lose.
But these are the Knicks, inconsistent as ever. Their pieces don't seem to mesh (on paper), and they depend on 'Melo the same way Nicolas Cage depends on poorly written scripts—Anthony is their livelihood.
Whatever the Knicks did right last season is irrelevant. Additions they made over the summer haven't been enough to keep pragmatists at bay. They're not held in the same esteem as the Bulls.
They will be the lesser team on Thursday night, traveling to Chicago for a game the Bulls are supposed to win.
Derrick Rose, Neck: Uh-oh.
So, Rose's first real game back at the United Center and he might not play? I know. I'm shocked, too. I'll be even more shocked if he actually doesn't play.
"Oh hell yeah, for sure I'm going to play tonight," Rose said, via Johnson.
New York Knicks
J.R. Smith, Suspension: Two down, three to go, New York. It won't be long now before your nights are filled with on-court airplanes, maddeningly inconsistent stat lines and postgame celebrations so exotic, numerous walks of shame are bound to follow the morning after.
In big-time matchups like these, fantasy stocks always wind up trending in one direction or the other.
When contenders play contenders, it brings out the best in some. These early, prime-time excursions are a great barometer for what you can expect from a player in the immediate future.
Setting your lineups Thursday shouldn't be a problem since there are only two games being played across the league. For future reference and any potential trade ideas, though, it's best to keep an eye on those who will stand out in this game.
Anthony is primed for a big night, even though he's going up against Chicago's staunch defense. You heard it here first. And if you didn't, say you did. It makes me look good.
Against the Milwaukee Bucks, 'Melo attempted just 16 shots. Through the first three quarters, he put up just eight. This comes after hoisting up over 22 a night last season en route to winning a scoring title. Following a reserved performance like that one, you know he's itching to shoot.
New York's star forward also grabbed 10 rebounds against Milwaukee to complete a double-double. His aggression on the boards was encouraging and is something that should carry over to a marquee matchup like this.
More 4-of-15 outings aren't in the cards for Mr. Rose. Not against New York, anyway.
The Knicks are notoriously porous when it comes to defending point guards. Floor generals tend to have a field day against their switch-heavy defensive schemes, and with only one true rim protector in Tyson Chandler, they're not built to adequately contest dribble penetration.
Also, Derrick Rose is Derrick Rose. Spout off as many comments about rust as you like. He's unlikely to have two abysmal performances in a row.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Eventually, the Knicks must resort to chucking up threes again. Think of their 13 deep-ball attempts against Milwaukee as one of a few unavoidable aberrations.
When the Knicks begin chucking again (tonight), Tim Hardaway Jr. will be camped out beyond the arc and ready to bound away.
I'd say I'm dead serious, but I hate that expression. It's depressing.
There's no complicated science here. The Knicks defend opposing combo guards terribly. As a member of the second unit, Kirk Hinrich should make for a lethal pick-and-roll catalyst and secondary scorer here.
A better game awaits Derrick Rose. That alone damages New York's chances.
The Knicks couldn't find a way to beat the grind-it-out Bulls of last year. With Rose back in the lineup, it's not going to get any easier.
Not having Smith will kill the Knicks here, because it became clear against the Bucks that they need another scorer. When 'Melo isn't pacing himself to win scoring titles, Felton and Shumpert aren't enough. Someone needs to fill the void.
On Wednesday, it should have been Andrea Bargnani. It wasn't, and he likely won't do anything on Thursday either. He's Keith Van Horn soft, and facing a physical Bulls team isn't the antidote to his lack of ferocity.
Mostly, Chicago's defense is just scary. The Bulls are also playing at home in front of a crowd that's going to be loud.
This is Rose's first meaningful contest at home since April 2012. The noise from the stands is going to be deafening, making this one "return" Chicago's opponent is unlikely to spoil.
Prediction: Bulls 94, Knicks 88