By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Rockets | Toyota Center
When: Friday | 8:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (10-21): The Knicks opened 2014 with a signature win in San Antonio last night. They welcomed Carmelo Anthony back to the lineup after he missed three games with a sprained ankle, and the All-Star reponded with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Iman Shumpert broke out of a season-long slump and had arguably his best game as a pro, putting up a career-high 27 points to go with six rebounds and three steals. It was a complete team effort, the type New York hopes it can build on tonight in the second game of a three-game Texas road trip.
Houston (21-13): After adding James Harden and Dwight Howard in successive offseasons, GM Daryl Morey's Rockets are developing into a powerhouse in the loaded Western Conference. They currently have the league's third-best offense and have gone from just below average on defense last year (16th) to just above now (14th). They've achieved the type of balance that could make them into a contender, although they are still working to find the right mix of complementary players around their two stars.
The Numbers Game
Shumpert's 27 points last night were one more than he'd scored in the previous six games combined.
Matchup to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. James Harden
Whereas Shumpert wows you with his explosiveness, Harden is known to bludgeon opponents with his methodical, two-pronged assault on the rim. "The Beard" is a ball-dominant combo guard who has become a master of drawing contact and punishing defenses from downtown. Since taking over as The Man in Houston, he's gotten to the free throw line over nine times per game and averages about six 3-point attempts per contest. This is what allows him to score 27 points on two field goals, like he did against Memphis recently.
What to Look For
The Knicks turned back the clock in last night's win, returning to the type of free-flowing, coordinated type of effort that propelled them to such success last season. They forced turnovers, got out in the open court, and moved the ball to find open shooters, coming up with the big plays when they needed to close out the win. The big man trio of Andrea Bargnani, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler combined for 25 points, 12 blocks and four rebounds agains the Spurs, providing welcome support for the perimeter-oriented attack...Houston has become a model of efficiency, leading the league in both free throw and 3-point attempts; the Rockets eschew the mid-range jumper, so defending the 3-point line is paramount to the Knicks' success. Houston's weakness is at the charity stripe, where it shoots 69.4 percent (29th in the NBA).