By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Thunder | Madison Square Garden
When: Thursday | 8:00 PM
Where to Watch: TNT/ MSG Postgame
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York: They made it interesting, but the Knicks have taken care of business leading up to tonight's showdown with the Thunder. First they came back to beat the Cavs in Cleveland, and then last night in Detroit -- playing without Carmelo Anthony -- they fought for a 10-point win behind 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting from Amar'e Stoudemire. They've won five of their last six now, having beaten the "teams they should beat," but now it's time to welcome OKC to the Garden for a primetime showdown. Anthony's status for tonight is questionable, although he'll be re-evaluated and we'll keep you updated.
Oklahoma City: Last year, the Thunder became the youngest team in history to make it to the NBA Finals. This year, despite losing All-Star James Harden, you could make the argument that they are even better. Led by MVP candidate Kevin Durant and All-Star Russell Westbrook, they rank first in offensive efficiency and eighth on defense. Like the Knicks, they come in hot, having won five of their last six. Their dynamic big man, Serge Ibaka, might have missed this game, but the NBA decided to fine him rather than suspend him for punching Blake Griffin in the groin in Sunday's game.
Last Time Out
New York: It was a rollercoaster affair, with double-digit lead swings both ways, but the Knicks prevailed last night in Detroit without Carmelo Anthony, 87-77.
Oklahoma City: It shows you how strong the Thunder are right now -- many praised the Lakers' showing, despite losing to the reigning Western Conference champs, 122-105, on Tuesday.
The Numbers Game
The Thunder, owners of the 3rd-worst turnover rate in the league, tied an NBA record with only two turnovers in their game against the Lakers on Tuesday. On the other end of the spectrum, the Knicks, owners of the best turnover rate in the NBA, turned the ball over 20 times last night in Detroit.
Matchup to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. Russell Westbrook
Westbrook, while one of the game's brightest stars, is an enigma. His ability to accelerate, stop on a dime, and elevate is matched by only a small handful of players in the world. He can use the threat of an improving free-throw line jumper to change pace and blow by you, getting to the rim with the exceptional power and balance. He's practically unstoppable, and yet he can be prone to mistakes (his assist to turnover ratio ranks 32nd among point guards), bad decisions (tunnel vision at times) and outbursts of emotion that may or may not be productive for his team. Like most great opposing point guards, he'll likely draw Shumpert as a defender, which should be a fun matchup to watch. Shump appears to be getting more and more comfortable in his recovery from knee surgery -- his jumpshot looked as good as it has all season against Detroit -- and he could be quite a weapon in matchups like this.
What to Look For
For the second straight game, Anthony's playing status tops the list of things to look for. There's a chance he could go, which would obviously be a big boost to the Knicks. If he can't, we'll see the ripple effects throughout the rotation. The starting lineup of Felton-Shumpert-White-Thomas-Chandler -- which had never played in a game together before last night -- could go again, with both White and Thomas giving way to their bench counterparts early and often. Stoudemire played 11 minutes in the first half before finishing up with his usual 30, so perhaps Mike Woodson prefers to give himself the flexibility to ride him in the second half as opposed to playing him more minutes in the first and then budgeting down the stretch. Kidd was a big contributor, as well, with two 3s, six assists, five rebounds and three steals. He could be coming out of his funk, which would help if the Knicks have to sustain another game without Melo.