By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Clippers | Staples Center
When: Sunday | 3:30 PM
Where to Watch: ABC
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York: Traveling across the country to play five good teams in eight days would be a challenge for any team, but the Knicks have been put in the unenviable position of having to do it with four players and 17 All-Star appearances on the bench. Knee injuries to Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler have had the most immediate impact -- the team has battled for the last two and a half games without either. When they spoke after practice in L.A. yesterday, Chandler and Mike Woodson suggested that both could sit out this afternoon and rest, but that they'd evaluate it this morning before making the final call.
Los Angeles: The big question for the Clippers is, are they a true contender in the West? They've beaten the Grizzlies, Nuggets, Thunder, Spurs and even Heat this year, but questions remain about Vinny Del Negro's rotation, their ability to score in the halfcourt, and just how good is a defense that has slipped to 8th after sticking in the top 5 for a good part of the season. The shine has worn off after a 17-game win streak that included an undefeated January.
They enter today having alternated wins and losses over their last six games, beating the bad (Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit), but losing to the good (Oklahoma City, Denver and Memphis). They've proven that they are a "good" team and are looking like a good bet to run away with the Pacific Division if Chris Paul stays healthy. But are they elite? What was once thought to be "likely" is now closer to "questionable."
Last Time Out
New York: The Knicks looked better than they had previously without Chandler or Anthony, but J.R. Smith's game-high 33 points weren't enough Thursday in Portland. They lost, 105-90.
Los Angeles: The Clips gave up 54 percent shooting to the Grizzlies on Wednesday and lost, 96-85.
The Numbers Game
The Clippers are 5th and the Knicks are 6th in the NBA in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions).
Matchup to Watch
Kenyon Martin vs. Blake Griffin
Along with Paul, Griffin is crucial to everything the Clippers hope to do on offense. First and foremost, he runs a high pick-and-roll with Paul, but he also he gets isolation opportunities from either low block to the pinch post and even out to the wing. The jumper from 16-23 feet remains steady at around 37 percent -- enough to make you guard it. He's best when he gets low position or catches the ball on the move going toward the hoop. The biggest improvement he's made this year is at the free throw line, where he is shooting 66 percent -- up from 52 last year. Martin, coming off of perhaps his best game as a Knick, will attempt to be physical with Griffin to keep him from his comfort spots and attack the offensive glass looking for putback opportunities.
What to Look For
While there is a chance that Anthony and/or Chandler could play, Coach Woodson said he was preparing to go with the group that practiced. That could mean Felton, Shumpert, Copeland, Martin and Thomas starting for the second straight game, with a heavy dose of J.R. Smith off the bench. Speaking of bench: The Clippers' bench that has played a large role in their success this year has taken a step back of late. If Caron Butler plays, they will get Matt Barnes back, but they will be without Eric Bledsoe, who missed the last two games with a calf injury. For the shorthanded Knicks, this is a very positive development.
The numbers say this game could come down to turnovers. The Clippers cause the most and the Knicks commit the least. New York will travel to Utah after the game to play the Jazz tomorrow night, the last game of the five-game road trip.