As you might know, I try to limit myself to picking national television games in this space. I like everyone to be able to look out for the things I point out, no matter where they live.
One thing that’s lame about that is that the same teams crop up over and over again. I just want you to know that it’s not my fault; blame whomever schedules the games.
On that note, I’m writing today about the Knicks, who are on national television twice this week. They play the Pacers on Thursday and the Bulls on Friday.
They are both good matchups, but Bulls have had the upper hand so far this season, winning the first two meetings with the Knicks. I think this will be a great game. These teams are just starting to really dislike one another.
Without their superstar point guard, the Bulls have relied on grit to put their winning record together. Joakim Noah has exemplified that. He covers up for the subpar defenders the Bulls employ at guard as well as frontcourt partner Carlos Boozer. With Derrick Rose out, he has also taken a bigger role on offense, particularly as a distributor, though his efficiency has dropped off and his turnovers have increased as a result. Bulls fans have to worry if he can hold up. He shoulders a lot of responsibility and plays 40 minutes a game, near tops in the league. He played even more minutes in two games against the Knicks. But despite the lack of rest and the presence of Tyson Chandler, he managed to muscle his way to the line six times a game against New York. He doesn’t have to shoot well, but if he can keep Chandler occupied and play his normal stalwart defense against the Knicks, the Bulls have a good chance of notching a third win over New York.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially with how well Carmelo Anthony has played of late. Melo is in the midst of his finest season, and looks completely in command as a scorer. With Amare Stoudemire still recovering from a knee injury, Anthony’s usage percentage has ballooned to a league-leading 34%, but he has proved worthy of that level of offensive responsibility, shooting more efficiently than ever, particularly from three. He’s also taking care of the ball, which is huge for someone who has it as much as he does. This looks like the season in which Melo fulfills his considerable potential. All that said, he has really struggled against the Bulls. Chicago has managed to slow down every facet of his game in their two meetings. Anthony particularly struggled at the basket, shooting just 42% against the Bulls, well off his normal 51% clip. If those struggles continue, it will be very difficult for the Knicks to win.
What to Watch For
The Bulls are one of the best defensive teams in the league, and a big part of that is how they defend the three-point line. Teams shoot just 32.9% from three against Chicago, the third-lowest rate in the league. The Knicks shoot more three-pointers than anyone else in the league. The Bulls did an excellent job of limiting the Knicks from distance, particularly in the corners, where the Knicks shot just 1-10. That number needs to improve if the Knicks are going to threaten this stingy defense.
Although the Knicks have played small most of the year, they have been a strong defensive rebounding team. But the Bulls have won the rebounding battle over two games. The Knicks need to play up to their standards on the defensive glass, because the Bulls are among the best offensive rebounding teams in basketball. The battle under under the rim will be decisive in this game.
Why Else Should I Watch?
Because J.R. Smith keeps doing ridiculous things in the air.
How to Watch
ESPN, Friday, 8 p.m. ET
League Pass Bonus Game
San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies, Friday, 8 p.m. ET. You can practice your channel flipping skills with this game Friday night.