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 brutal Western Conference road trip is in the rearview mirror and all of a sudden the Knicks are gunning for their third straight win. After things hit rock bottom in Denver (the night when both Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler went down with knee injuries), effort and teamwork have been good, with execution following right behind. Melo returned for Wenesday's game against Orlando and scored 21 points in 32 minutes. The Knicks will clinch a playoff berth with a win tonight.
Toronto: Looking to make a playoff push, the Raptors swung a trade for Rudy Gay almost two months ago. Things haven't gone as planned, though. They ripped off a five-game winning streak shortly after the trade, but have gone 10-12 with Gay and, at 26-42, have fallen into last place in the Atlantic Division. Center Andrea Bargnani has been lost for the season with a sprained right elbow.
Last Time Out
New York: With Anthony back in the lineup, the Knicks cruised past the Magic, 106-94, on Wednesday night at MSG.
Toronto: The Raptors lost to the Bobcats, 107-101, on Wednesday.
The Numbers Game
Over the last four games, J.R. Smith is averaging 23 points and 8.5 free throw attempts.
Matchup to Watch
Raymond Felton vs. Kyle Lowry
Built similarly, both of these point guards are keys to their teams' success. Lowry's numbers are down slighty (12 points and 6 assists per game), but when he gets hot, there is little you can do to stop him. He's physical and can get in the lane, but he can also shoot it from deep. With all the change in the Knicks' lineup, it's up to Felton to dictate the pace of the game and to get the right people involved with ball movement.
What to Look For
The Knicks can clinch a playoff berth tonight with a win, so that will obviously be worth keeping an eye on. With Melo back, the scoring punch should be there, so focus will be on the defense and making Toronto take long 2s rather than open 3s or layups. J.R. Smith has been committed to attacking the hoop the last week or so, and it's paying off in trips to the line and easy scoring opportunities. Toronto is 23rd in defensive efficiency and 13th on offense, so this is a game the Knicks should be looking at their third straight win if they can limit the mistakes and take care of the ball.