By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Bobcats | Madison Square Garden
When: Friday | 7:30 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York: It's the moment we've all been waiting for! (Well, until next Wednesday...) The newly transformed Madison Square Garden reopens tonight as the Knicks undergo their final tune-up for the regular season. It's been an eventful preseason, chock full of dramatic finishes, breakout performances, and opportunities to see the new additions find their way into the flow of last year's Atlantic Division champions. Their record stands at 2-4 so far, but the preseason is really about evaluation and coming together as a team.
Tonight marks the first chance for New York fans to see Metta World Peace, Andrea Bargnani, Beno Udrih and 1st round pick Tim Hardaway Jr. don the Orange and Blue at the World's Most Famous Arena. It could also feature the season debuts of both Amar'e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith, so expect the atmosphere to be electric.
Charlotte: There is nowhere to go but up for the Bobcats, coming off a 21-win season in which they ranked 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency and 29th in defense. With a record of 3-3 this preseason and a slew of recent lottery picks on the roster, there is some reason for optimism for new head coach Steve Clifford's team. The big offseason moves included signing veteran low post threat Al Jefferson away from Utah and drafting Cody Zeller 4th overall out of Indiana. How much they improve will depend on these two, plus the continued development of point guard Kemba Walker and swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
The Numbers Game
NBA.com's John Schuhmann wrote about the Knicks today as part of his "One Team, One Stat" series, pointing out the Knicks and their opponents combined to take 31.9 percent of their shots from three-point range last season -- an NBA record. New York was prolific from downtown last year, but needs to limit the opposition from firing away if it hopes to improve on its middle-of-the-pack defensive rating from last season.
Matchup to Watch
Carmelo Anthony vs. Cody Zeller
Melo is looking to take the next step this season after taking home his first scoring title last year, and that effort begins tonight in front of his home crowd. Mike Woodson has paired Anthony and Bargnani at the 4 and 5 frequently throughout the preseason, and the chemistry has been developing. Zeller is a more traditional power forward, with good athleticism and the potential to become a stretch-4 as he improves his jumper.
What to Look For
Everyone will be looking to see how Smith responds after participating in full-contact practice over the past few days. He told our Jonah Ballow that while his explosiveness is not quite back, but he feels good physically and is anxious to get back on the court with his teammates. Woodson said he wouldn't play big minutes, but just to see last year's 6th Man of the Year back in a uniform would be a sight for sore eyes. After yesterday's practice, Shumpert hinted at his coach's desire to experiment with different lineup combinations -- including using three point guards together -- and that could begin tonight as the rotation shrinks in preparation for the season.