By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Raptors | AT&T Center
When: Thursday | 8:30 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (9-21): The Knicks faced a home-and-home series with Toronto last Friday and Saturday, but were unable to gain any ground in the Atlantic Division, dropping both games as Carmelo Anthony sat out with a sprained ankle. Tonight marks the beginning of a brutal, three-game road trip through the state of Texas against teams that are a combined 32 games over .500. The good news: Melo is probable to make his return tonight, according to Knicks PR.
San Antonio (25-7): Tim Duncan is 37 years old and Manu Ginobili is 36, but age remains nothing but a number for Gregg Popovich's team, which sits just a half game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference standings. Only one Spur averages more than 29 minutes a game -- Tony Parker, who plays 30.6 -- and yet the team appears headed toward another deep playoff run this season. Behind the Big 3, Tiago Splitter has established himself as one of the premier defensive big men in the league and Kawhi Leonard has emerged as one of its brightest young wings. After a lopsided Christmas Day loss to Houston, San Antonio has reeled off three straight wins.
The Numbers Game
In three games since Anthony injured his ankle in Orlando, rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. is averaging 16 points in 34 minutes per game, including 47 percent on 5.7 three-pointers attempted.
Matchup to Watch
Beno Udrih vs. Tony Parker
Raymond Felton is listed as "doubtful" for tonight -- a step up from "out," which is still Pablo Prigioni's status -- so that leaves Udrih to continue manning the point against one of the NBA's best in Parker. Udrih, who won two championships with the Spurs, is posting his best season from 3-point land, shooting almost 50 percent from downtown, but has struggled with inconsistency on both ends of the floor. The Spurs' offense runs like a well-oiled machine and starts with Parker's ability to get into the lane, making Udrih's effort on defense crucial to a Knicks win.
What to Look For
San Antonio's tried-and-true system relies on two key principles: players knowing their roles and a collective emphasis on passing up good shots to get great ones. The Knicks were no match for the Spurs when they played at Madison Square Garden earlier in the season, and will need a much better all-around effort for a different outcome this time... With four full days off since their last game, you'd expect the Knicks to be sufficiently rested; that means Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire, in particular, could be ready to pitch in against Duncan, Splitter and the rest of the Spurs' big men. San Antonio's rotation goes 10 or 11 deep with very little dropoff in quality of play.