Knicks @ Hawks 1:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 1050 AM
New York: Amar'e Stoudemire hit the floor on Friday for the first time in 13 games after he was sidelined with a bulging disk in his back. The power forward scored 15 points in the defeat but he reiterated to the media following the game that he feels completely healthy and ready to make a playoff run. While New York suffered a loss in his return, the team maintained its position in the Eastern Conference standings at 33-30. The Knicks trail Orlando by 3.5 games and own a half game advantage on Philadelphia in the fight for the seventh position. If the playoffs started today, New York would square off against the Miami Heat in the first round. As the conversation shifts to postseason predictions, the Knicks still have two of their final three games on the road and on national television. Sunday, the team will face Atlanta, return home on Wednesday for a game against the Clippers, and then hit the road for the season finale in Charlotte on Thursday night.
Atlanta: Since the last time the two teams met on March 30, the Hawks are 7-3 and hold a 38-25 overall record. Atlanta has been consistent in that stretch, winning its last three games to secure a playoff spot while currently sitting in the fifth position. As the Hawks eye a potential first round matchup against the Celtics, Al Horford is back at practice after missing three months with a torn left pectoral muscle. Horford is a major piece of the puzzle for Atlanta and a proven All-Star that could provide a big boost in the postseason. Meanwhile, center Zaza Pachulia is listed as day-to-day with a foot injury and he missed his fourth straight game on Friday night. Three contests remain on the Hawks schedule against playoff teams starting on Thursday with the Knicks, followed by the Clippers and Mavericks to conclude a lengthy five-game homestand.
Last Time Out
New York: Despite a fourth quarter run, the Knicks were derailed in Cleveland 98-90 and their two-game winning streak was snapped.
Atlanta: Joe Johnson dropped 30 points in leading the Hawks to a 97-92 win over the Celtics on Friday night.
The Numbers Game
Mike Bibby made his second straight start on Friday night in place of Baron Davis. The veteran point guard was hot from the 3-point line, drilling 4-of-5 attempts for 12 points. He also dished four assists and snagged two steals in 23 minutes of action.
Match-up to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. Joe Johnson
With the return of Stoudemire, interim head coach Mike Woodson has moved Landry Fields from the starting lineup to the second unit and placed Iman Shumpert at the shooting guard position. Recognized as the Knicks best on-ball defender, Shumpert will receive the challenge of defending one of the best two-guards in the league on Sunday afternoon. Johnson’s offensive production in the last meeting led to a Hawks victory as he scored 28 points to go along with six boards. Shumpert will attempt to frustrate the silky smooth All-Star while he navigates on the perimeter looking for step-back jumpers. Johnson is deceptively quick and crafty at the rim, which was seen in his 30-point performance against Boston on Friday night. From an offensive standpoint, Shumpert enjoyed nice outing in the previous contest in Atlanta with 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the floor in 41 minutes of action. The rookie will need to produce at both sides of the court in order for the Knicks to snatch a win on Sunday.
What to Look For
From the opening tip in Cleveland, New York lacked the type of energy and urgency that carried them to a postseason berth. Inside the road locker room, the Knicks admitted to the uncharacteristic lackluster outing and vowed to regain their momentum for the final three games of the regular season. There are a couple of things to watch in this Sunday matinee at Philips Arena. New York must clean the glass after a lopsided loss in that category against the lottery bound Cavaliers. In the last matchup, Atlanta outrebounded the Knicks 40-33 with the Hawks earning the 100-90 win.
It will be interesting to see how Stoudemire performs after he posted 15 points on Friday night against the Cavaliers. The big man missed 13 straight before his debut in Cleveland and he started to exhibit some offensive rhythm in the fourth quarter. Carmelo Anthony was held to just 12 points as well in the Friday loss. Both players are vital to the Knicks postseason success and they will search for efficient and productive performances against a team that only allows 92.8 points per game.