By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Raptors | Air Canada Centre
When: Friday | 7:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (33-45): After last Sunday's loss in Miami, the Knicks have had four days to nurse injuries and prepare for tonight's crucial matchup. With only four games left to play, every game is a must-win as New York tries to cut into Atlanta's two-game lead for the final playoff spot. Carmelo Anthony's shoulder is the big question mark, having shot 9-for-31 in the two games since injuring it against Brooklyn last week. J.R. Smith is coming off a record setting performance, in which he took 22 three-pointers and made 10.
Toronto (46-32): A young team with some promising pieces entering the season, the Raptors have surpassed all expectations as they prepare for their sixth playoff trip in franchise history -- the first since 2007-08. With a talented backcourt of Kyle Lowry and All Star DeMar DeRozan, a 21-year-old franchise center in Jonas Valanciunas and a deep rotation of role players bolstered by the mid-season Rudy Gay trade, they've put themselves in position to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown with a balanced approach: they rank 10th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They are tied with Chicago for the 3 seed, but would clinch the tiebreaker with a win tonight and lower their magic number to three.
The Numbers Game
Toronto is one of only four teams with a top-10 ranking in both offensive and defensive rating. The others: L.A. Clippers (2nd, 7th), San Antonio (5th, 4th) and Oklahoma City (7th, 5th).
Matchup to Watch
J.R. Smith vs. DeMar DeRozan
With Anthony affected by an injury to his right (shooting) shoulder, Smith has had to...shoulder the Knicks' scoring load. We've seen Smith be successful as a secondary scorer, but being the primary guy comes with expanded responsibilities in terms of decision making. On the other end, he'll have to defend Toronto's talented wings, including DeRozan, who has improved his player efficiency rating from 14.7 to 18.4 this season.
What to Look For
Anthony compensated for his shooting limitations by playing the role of facilitator, dishing out 11 assists over the past two games. With four days to recover, we'll see if he's regained strength and can become a weapon as a scorer. Between Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert, the Kicks will need to space the floor and knock own shots if the offense is going to succeed with Melo at less than full strength. On the defensive end, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire will need to work together to keep Valanciunas off the boards. Toronto forward Amir Johnson (sprained ankle) is listed as questionable for tonight.