By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Thunder | Chesapeake Energy Arena
When: Sunday | 1:00 PM
Where to Watch: ABC
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (20-30): The Knicks snapped a three-game losing streak by blowing out the Denver Nuggets at the Garden on Friday night, 117-90. It marked the second straight game in which New York held a high-octane offense to under 95 points -- a sign that the defense (ranked 21st in defensive efficiency) may be catching up to the offense (ranked 15th). Carmelo Anthony scored 31 points on 21 shots in three quarters, earning a 4th quarter of rest as his teammates cruised to the victory. He was one of five Knicks who scored in double figures, led by big men Amar'e Stoudemire (17 points, eight rebounds), J.R. Smith (13 points) and Jeremy Tyler (12 points, 11 rebounds).
Oklahoma City (40-12): Despite being without Russell Westbrook for 27 games, the Thunder are rolling along behind the MVP-caliber play of Kevin Durant, who is averaging 31 points per game. The NBA's leading scorer continues to evolve as a player on both ends of the floor as he leads his team to top-five rankings on offense (4th in points per 100 possessions) and defense (5th). They've won 12 of their last 14 games and 22 of 25 at home this season. They have, however, lost two of their last four, to Washington and Orlando.
The Numbers Game
The Knicks rank third in the NBA in turnovers committed this season (the good way), and actually commit fewer on the road (10.9 per game) than they do at home (13.5).
Matchup to Watch
J.R. Smith vs. Jeremy Lamb
The long-term key to the trade that sent James Harden from Oklahoma City to Houston, Lamb is quietly emerging as an invaluable weapon off the Thunder bench. The long and ultra-smooth, second-year wing is beginning to "put it together," playing 22 minutes a contest for Scott Brooks. He can stroke it from downtown (shooting 36 percent beyond the arc) and put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. Smith said after Friday's win that he expects to get a chance to defend Durant, but expect to see these two super subs go head to head at some point.
What to Look For
The Knicks' defensive effort against tough Western Conference opponents in consecutive games has to be encouraging for coach Mike Woodson. Even though they fell short against Portland, the Knicks showed what they are capable of by holding the league's top offense to 94 points and limiting Denver to 90 two days later. Durant's Thunder might present the toughest challenge yet. Woodson went out of his way to praise Reggie Jackson, Westbrook's replacement at point guard who is also emerging as an impact player capable of running an offense and scoring. Oklahoma City is long and active on defense, led by Serge Ibaka, who is averaging 2.5 blocks per game.