By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Wizards | Madison Square Garden
When: Friday | 7:30 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (33-43): With a blowout, 110-81 victory over Brooklyn on Wednesday, the Knicks took another step toward the playoffs. It was a total team effort, with J.R. Smith (24 points, eight rebounds, six assists) igniting a first half offensive explosion and Iman Shumpert spearheading a strong defensive effort with five steals. Now percentage points ahead of Atlanta in the standings, New York is in position to surge ahead with a strong finish over the last six games.
Washington (39-36): With a playoff spot clinched, the Wizards will be playing for seeding tonight. They are currently in 6th, 1.5 games behind Brooklyn and two games ahead of Charlotte. Despite the explosive backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, Washington's offense is about league average; the reason for the first postseason berth since 2007-08 is a 10th-ranked defense.
The Numbers Game
Until the Hawks catch up to the Knicks in terms of games played, their battle for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot will remain a little murky. Both teams are 20 games back of the East-leading Heat (hence "tied" in the standings), but New York has played two more games than Atlanta to this point, with one more win and one more loss than the Hawks -- the result is a slight edge in winning percentage, .434 to .432. With four days off after Sunday's game in Miami, Knicks fans will be able to sit back and watch Atlanta catch up.
Matchup to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. John Wall
Any conversation about the Wizards starts with their franchise player, Wall. He is one of the fastest players in the league with the ball, a one-man fastbreak that forces teams to abandon offensive rebounding in favor of transition defense. Now that he has weapons like Beal around him who can knock down jumpers, his passing vision plays up and makes the Wiz tough to slow down. Shumpert has proven that he is capable of slowing some of the top point guards in the league, so expect to see him get a crack at defending the speedy Wall.
What to Look For
As Knicks President Phil Jackson told the media yesterday, the team is playing with great energy and it has benefitted recently from an offensive attack that features more than one option. Knowing they can count on Carmelo Anthony to score (and this season, rebound) with the best, his teammeates seem to have gained comfort in their roles as the season draws to a close. Smith has quietly rebounded from a slow start to become an integral part of the attack, shooting 38 percent from 3-point range on the year... Raymond Felton left Wednesday's game after a nasty fall that bruised his ribs, but he returned to help the Knicks seal the win. How he feels two days later is worth watching, especially against a team with Wall running the show.