New York Knicks (33-45) at Toronto Raptors (46-32): 3 keys to victory

 

Apr 6, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) is pressured by Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Miami won 102-91. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors welcome the New York Knicks to the Air Canada Centre. Both teams have reason to play hard. The Raps are trying to hang onto the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks, perhaps the NBA’s most disappointing team, still have a mathematical chance to grab the #8 seed. While they would be roadkill in the West, where Memphis sits ninth with the same record as Toronto, the Knicks have 4 games left to leapfrog the Atlanta Hawks. Two of those matches are against the Raps, who won back to back against the Knicks in late December.

The Knicks may be motivated, but they’re not healthy. Andrea Bargnani will finish yet another season on the injured list, and valuable veteran tough guy Kenyon Martin is also done. Worst of all, swingman Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks’ best player by from here to Australia, has been playing in spite of a badly strained shoulder. The Knicks haven’t played since a Sunday defeat in Miami, so Carmelo may be on the mend. J.R. Smith season’s had been a train wreck until recently; he’s hit 24 of 5o attempts from beyond the arc in his last 3 games. Tyson Chandler has been a top-rank defensive centre for years, but has little to offer on offense except putbacks. Amar’e Stoudamire hasn’t got a lot of tread left on his tires. While he can still score, he’s lost more than a step on D. Raymond Felton might be the worst point guard around.

Tim Hardaway Jr. may be a rookie, but plays like a veteran. He will need close attention off the bench, but he’s about the only one. The press keeps touting Iman Shumpert as a future star, to my complete mystification. Pablo Prigioni came to the NBA in the twilight of his career, which is too bad. I wish he’d arrived sooner, as he’s got a lot of skill, but his body can only keep up to his brain in short bursts.

With Kyle Lowry’s knee back in full operation, the Raps are close to full health. Only Amir Johnson’s ankle remains problematic. Toronto can win this game if they:

  • get Chandler in foul trouble. That means applying pressure early in the paint. If he has to sit, the Knicks will struggle to defend DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas.
  • don’t “lose” J.R. Smith on defense. Terrence Ross is likely to draw the short straw on this assignment. Smith can make shots from anywhere on the floor, often as the 24-second clock is expiring.
  • use our strong rotation to wear down the visitors. One reason the Raps are winning so many fourth quarters is coach Dwane Casey’s commitment to his bench, which keeps the starters fresh for crunch time.

Toronto’s defense must display more energy that it did against Philly. Assuming it does, the Raps will win 110-98.

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