By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Mavericks | American Airlines Arena
When: Friday | 7:30 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (10-22): After splitting the first two games of their Texas road trip, the Knicks head to Dallas with a chance to complete their first challenge of 2014 with an improbable winning record. They managed to beat San Antonio as Carmelo Anthony returned from an ankle injury and almost topped Houston on Friday behind a second straight breakout scoring performance from Iman Shumpert, before losing by two due to poor execution on the last few plays.
Dallas (19-14): The Mavericks are five games over .500, which in the West is good for a tenuous hold on the Conference's final playoff spot. Their success is due to shrewd personnel moves and the underrated coaching genius of Rick Carlisle and his staff. Dirk Nowitzki remains the centerpiece for this organization, and the 35-year-old German is showing no signs of breaking down -- he's already one of six players to finish a season in the 50-40-90 club (field goal, 3-point and free throw percentage), and he's on pace to become the third do do it more than once. Monta Ellis, the Mavs' offseason free agent addition, has evolved into more than just a gunner, shooting 45 percent from the floor, his highest rate since 2006-07.
The Numbers Game
Tweeted following the Houston game:
Iman Shumpert shot 30.5% from 3 during the 2013 portion of this season (30 gms). After going 12-14 last night and tonight, he's up to 38.5.— charlie widdoes (@charliewiddoes) January 4, 2014
Matchup to Watch
Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Vince Carter
One athletic, sweet-shooting wing on the way up, one enjoying the twilight of his 16th NBA season. Players like Carter, 37, often fall off a cliff because of their reliance on athleticism, but the player formerly known as "Half Man/Half Amazing" has managed to adapt his game as his career has progressed. He's become an invaluable role player for this surprising Mavs team, still a threat from downtown and shooting a career-high 85 percent from the free throw line. Hardaway's playing time can vary, but as he continues to develop his game, emulating a player like Carter could go a long way.
What to Look For
In the last two games, Mike Woodson has leaned heavily on his veterans. The starters, plus Amar'e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith, have carried the load and the results have been promising. After playing 14 minutes in San Antonio, Kenyon Martin (sore left ankle) missed the Houston game and is questionable for tonight. Stoudemire has played more than 40 minutes in the past two games, so his freshness will be worth watching. If he struggles with his explosiveness, perhaps new signee Jeremy Tyler could make his Knicks regular season debut. Shump and Melo have been dynamite in the new year, adding a dynamic element to the offense from the wings.