By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Raptors | Air Canada Centre
When: Friday | 7:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG Networks
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York: The Knicks came out of the All-Star break with a renewed sense of purpose for a stretch run, only to run into a Pacers squad that was ready for them and is clicking on all cylinders. Very little went well for the Orange and Blue in Indy, but they remain a half a game ahead of the Pacers in the Eastern Conference standings as they head to Toronto. They made a minor move at the trade deadline, shipping Ronnie Brewer, who had fallen out of Mike Woodson's rotation, to Oklahoma City in exchange for a draft pick. That won't have too much impact on this game or the rest of the season. What could, however, is the signing of free agent Kenyon Martin, who the Knicks hope can bring versatility on defense and bolster the big man rotation.
Toronto: The Raptors enter tonight's game having won six of nine since acquiring Rudy Gay from the Grizzlies. As the Knicks saw firsthand when they played prior to the All-Star break, they are playing defense more like they did last season (when they were 14th in defensive efficiency) than this year (they are 24th) -- since the Gay trade, they have allowed their opponent to score 100 or more only twice. Still five games out of the playoffs, they are hoping they can keep the momentum going down the stretch.
Last Time Out
New York: The Knicks couldn't stop the Pacers, who scored 44 points in the second quarter alone en route to a 125-91 win on Wednesday.
Toronto: Gay's old team, the Memphis Grizzlies, snapped the Raps' five-game winning streak with an 88-82 victory on Wednesday.
The Numbers Game
Tonight's matchup features two of the best teams at protecting the ball; the Knicks have the lowest turnover rate in the entire NBA and the Raptors are third.
Matchup to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. Rudy Gay
Despite interest around the league, Shumpert surived the trade deadline because the Knicks desperately need him to be their perimeter stopper if they are going to make a deep playoff run. Against Toronto, he will see time against both shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and small forward Gay, and he will have a similar task: force them to take contested long 2-point shots. Both are extremely athletic finishers around the hoop, but both can also be known to settle for lower percentage looks against defensive pressure.
What to Look For
First and foremost, Knicks fans will be looking to see how their team responds to the lackluster showing in Indiana on Wednesday. After talk of being rested and re-focused coming out of the All-Star break, multiple players cited effort as the issue, not X's and O's. The Raptors are not as good a team as the Pacers -- certainly not as physical defensively -- but they have been better offensively and are playing great basketball since trading for Gay. Expect a bounce back performance from the Knicks.