Knicks @ Raptors 7 PM
Where to Watch: MSG
Where to Listen: ESPN 1050 AM
New York: A new sense of optimism is surrounding the Knicks as they secured their fifth consecutive victory on Wednesday in Philadelphia. The big win moved New York within three games of the Sixers for the Atlantic Division lead, 1.5 ahead of Milwaukee in the No. 8 spot, and just2.5 games behind Boston in the Eastern Conference standings as of Wednesday evening. The Knicks are playing improved basketball under interim head coach Mike Woodson and the schedule is on their side over the next two games against teams out of the playoff race. However, next week New York will face a must-win against Milwaukee before hosting Orlando and traveling to Atlanta on March 30. While Baron Davis returned to the lineup on Wednesday after missing two games due to a strained hamstring, Jared Jeffries is back on the injury list. The forward / center left the game in Philadelphia with a sore knee and is listed as day-to-day entering the matchup against Toronto.
Toronto: Just two days ago, the Raptors suffered a road loss to the Knicks at MSG and now the squad is stuck in a three-game losing skid. With a rigorous schedule to conclude March, Toronto will face New York on Friday night then Chicago, Orlando, Denver, and Miami on March 30. At least the Raptors host six of those seven challenging games as they look to improve on a 15-32 overall record. Toronto has regained full health as Jose Calderon returned to the lineup on Tuesday night.
Last Time Out
New York: The Knicks squeaked out an 82-79 victory on Wednesday over the Sixers after holding the team to a 0-for-14 start from the field in the first quarter.
Toronto: On Wednesday, the Raptors were dropped 94-82 by the Chicago Bulls despite DeMar DeRozan’s 23 points.
The Numbers Game
In the five-game winning streak, look at the Knicks numbers compared to their season averages. New York is scoring 7.6 more points, 2.5 less turnovers, three more rebounds, 5.1 more free throw attempts, 5.9 percent increase in 3-point shooting, and a 2.4 percent increase in field goal shooting per game.
Match-up to Watch
Landry Fields vs. DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan has averaged 17.3 points per game against the Knicks this season to go along with 50 percent shooting from the floor. The 2009 No. 9 overall pick is a high-flyer and a major threat in the transition game. Andrea Bargnani should be the Raptors top offensive option but Tyson Chandler just about eliminated his productivity by holding the big man to a 5-of-15 performance. As Bargnani battles Chandler and Calderon continues to work back from the injury, Toronto will rely on DeRozan to increase the tempo and shift momentum off highlight reel dunks. Landry Fields owns the size and strength to frustrate DeRozan and force the Raptors shooting guard into contested shots deep on the perimeter.
What to Look For
Following an emotional victory in a playoff environment, the Knicks must avoid a potential letdown game in Toronto on Friday night. During the incredible five-game turnaround, New York has exhibited spirited play on both sides of the floor and its sense of urgency can’t decrease against a team suffering through a three-game losing streak. The Raptors are a solid defensive team, allowing 95 points per game but the Knicks should find space inside the paint, especially for Amar’e Stoudemire. New York’s power forward has backed up his words with efficient and explosive play over the last two games. Stoudemire is fresh off a 22-point, 12-rebound night against the defensive-minded Sixers. His activity, emotion, and productivity will help the Knicks in their search for six in a row.
“We're enthused about how good we can be. We know we can be a good team. It's a matter of putting all of the pieces together.” – Amar’e Stoudemire