By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Bulls | Madison Square Garden
When: Sunday | 7:30 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York (34-45): Led by Carmelo Anthony (30 points, eight rebounds) and Amar'e Stoudemire (season-high 24 points and 11 rebounds), the Knicks pulled out a gritty win in Toronto on Friday to keep their playoff hopes alive. But after Atlanta's win over Miami last night, New York has officially been elimintated from postseason contention. With three games left to play, Coach Mike Woodson's team will be looking to finish the season strong against three Eastern Conference playoff teams.
Chicago (47-32): Despite injuries (Derrick Rose played only 10 games because of another knee injury) and trading All Star Luol Deng to Cleveland, Tom Thibodeau's team has a one-game lead on the Raptors for the 3 seed in the East. Joakim Noah has vaulted into the M.V.P. discussion by taking his game to the next level on offense; the Bulls have the second-best defense in the NBA, but Noah's evolution as a facilitator (tied for the league lead with four triple doubles and a career-best 5.3 assists per game) kept an otherwise anemic offense (ranked 28th) afloat all season. Chicago has won seven straight games.
The Numbers Game
The Knicks' most-used 5-man linuep (Raymond Felton-JR. Smith-Anthony-Stoudemire-Tyson Chandler) has played 270 minutes together this season and has been 0.3 points per 100 possessions better than the opponent.
Matchup to Watch
Iman Shumpert vs. Jimmy Butler
Butler has started all season for Chicago, helping to offset the loss of Deng with his length and perimeter defense. His shooting stroke hasn't been as reliable this season (28 percent from 3) as it was last year (38%), but his versatility on both ends has been a big part of the Bulls' success (averaging 38.5 minutes per game). Shumpert was terrific in Toronto, scoring 11 points and pulling down five rebounds to go with a few key defensive stops. Both of these two bring consistent intensity, making tonight's matchup a must watch.
What to Look For
After struggling with an injured shoulder for most of three games, Anthony had four days to rest and he returned to form with a big scoring night against the Raptors. Stoudemire's 24 points marked a season high and it was also his fifth time this season with 10 or more rebounds. He logged just under 40 minutes in Toronto, so with the playoffs no longer reachable, we'll see how much Woodson leans on the big man with a history of knee trouble...Tim Hardaway Jr. is in the top five among rookies in many statistical categories and will continue to make his case for the All-Rookie first team.