By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Suns | US Airways Center
When: Friday | 10:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (30-42): The Knicks got back on the winning track on Wednesday night in Sacramento thanks to 65 points from Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith combined. After New York jumped out to an early lead, the Kings made their second-half run but, unlike the previous night in L.A., the Knicks had answers for the Kings down the stretch. Led by Smith's sharpshooting, coach Mike Woodson's team stayed composed and pulled out the win. With the victory and Atlanta's loss last night, the Knicks are now only 1.5 games behind the Hawks for the East's final playoff spot with 10 games to play.
Suns (43-29): The novelty of Phoenix's early success has worn off as Jeff Hornacek's team finds itself scratching and clawing to hang onto one of the West's final playoff spots. They are currently the 8 seed, and with wins over most of the league's best teams, the Suns are no longer a surprise to anyone. Their backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe is as talented as any in the league and both are finally healthy after various injuries have limited their time together this season. They seem to get major contributions from a different player every game -- from Gerald Green to Miles Plumlee to the Morris twins -- and that "next man up" approach has made them the 8th best offense in the NBA and the 14th best D.
The Numbers Game
A night after the Knicks gave up the most points in a quarter in franchise history (51), J.R. Smith tied a franchise record for most 3-pointers in a game with nine in Sacramento.
Matchup to Watch
Raymond Felton vs. Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe is finally back after missing three and a half months with a meniscus issue in his knee. The Suns are 7-2 since his return, and he's scoring nearly 17 points per game to go with five rebounds, five assists and top-notch defense. Simply put, he's a gamechanger, and playing him next to All-Star snub Dragic makes Phoenix a matchup nightmare. Felton has shown recently that his ability to find the right mix of creating for himself and setting up his teammates can be the key to the Knicks offense. On defense, especially against such a pick-and-roll heavy team and two guards so adept at penetrating, Felton's ability to stay in front of his man and communicate with his bigs will be crucial to success.
What to Look For
The Suns like to run and gun; they play at the 6th fastest pace in the NBA and hoist up the 4th most 3s per game. With Bledsoe, Dragic and Green applying constant pressure on defense, they create fastbreak opportunities by playing the passing lanes and forcing turnovers. They are also vulnerable to the 3-ball, however, as opponents are shooting 34 percent against them from downtown this season...The Knicks will have to maintain a high level of focus and intensity tonight against a young, hungry team that is known for playing tough for 48 minutes. Even if they can jump out to an early lead, the recent trend of letting opponents climb back into games is not likely to work for New York tonight.