By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Raptors | Madison Square Garden
When: Friday | 7:30 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (9-19): Despite being 10 games under .500, the Knicks remain only three games back of the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors. After losing to the Thunder on Christmas Day without Carmelo Anthony (sprained ankle), the home-and-home with Toronto that starts tonight gives them a shot to narrow the gap to one game by Sunday. Anthony didn't practice on Thursday, getting treatment from the training staff in hopes of making it back soon, but his status for tonight will be determined close to game time.
Toronto (11-15): Andrea Bargnani's former team holds a half-game division lead thanks to a 5-3 run since trading Rudy Gay earlier this month. The Raptors are league-average on both offense (17th) and defense (14th). Without Gay's inefficient volume chucking, there are more touches for young wings DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, as well as promising second-year big man Jonas Valanciunas.
The Numbers Game
They've only played 10 minutes together over the course of five games, but the young, energetic trio of Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Toure' Murry has posted encouraging results so far: their offensive rating is 106.3 points per 100 possessions and they are only allowing 89.5 points per 100 possessions.
Matchup to Watch
Beno Udrih vs. Kyle Lowry
Udrih has been up-and-down as the Knicks' fill-in starting point guard in Raymond Felton's absence this year. His assist rate is actually higher than his career average, but his involvement in the offense seems to vary from game to game. He's had nights of 21 points mixed with ones where he scored two points, as was the case against the Thunder. Perhaps most important to the Knicks' success is his commitment on the defensive end, where his ability to keep opposing point guards like Lowry in front of him could make a big difference with the Knicks' health issues along the front line.
What to Look For
With Melo's availability in question, the Knicks will have to find scoring punch elsewhere. J.R. Smith, last year's second-leading scorer, is an obvious candidate, but we've seen this season that they are best when they share the ball and simplify things on the offensive end... Even without Felton or Pablo Prigioni, New York actually matches up pretty well with Toronto because of its abundance of athletic wings. Between Shumpert, Smith and Hardaway, three of the Knicks' top six healthy minute-getters are well-equipped to defend the perimeter, giving Mike Woodson some interesting lineup options, even if Anthony can't go.