The NBA has a nationally televised barnburner set to go down today when the red hot New York Knicks pay a visit to the ever dangerous Oklahoma City Thunder. Oklahoma City may seem like the favorite, but let’s not forget what happened when they visited the Knicks back on March 7.
In that game, New York managed to lose by just one point and held the lead for a good amount of time before the Thunder took over in the fourth quarter. Despite the fact that one of New York’s key players was out of the lineup due to injury, the final score was an incredibly close 95-94.
New York enters this game on an 11-game winning streak and in search of its 50th win. The Oklahoma City has won six of seven and is sure to put up a good fight in front of its home crowd. The game is going to be intense from start to finish, and fans would be wise to tune in and see some of the best players in the league compete against each other.
Time: Sunday, April 7, 1 p.m. ET
Injuries: Rasheed Wallace (foot, out), Amar’e Stoudemire (knee, out), Kurt Thomas (foot, out), Marcus Camby (foot, doubtful), Kenyon Martin (knee, doubtful)
Key Matchup: Carmelo Anthony vs. Serge Ibaka
Now that the Knicks have Anthony back for this game, as he missed the first one against Oklahoma City with a sore knee, the former Syracuse Orange will be expected to continue his hot streak against a tough Thunder team.
On the season, Anthony ranks second in the league with 28.3 points per game — just second to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant who has post 28.4 per contest. Anthony has also managed to post 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 38 percent from long range, but the real story has been his last five games.
Over that stretch, he is averaging 37.4 points and 8.4 rebounds, not to mention shooting 56 percent from the field and 54 percent from long range. Needless to say, Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka is going to have his hands full when trying to stop Anthony.
Blessed with great size for the 4 at 6’10″, 235 pounds, Ibaka has averaged 13.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and a league-best three blocks per game this season. He has also shot 57 percent from the field, and has a decent jump shot to go with his fine interior game.
Ibaka simply needs to force each and every one of Anthony’s shots today, doing all he can to slow down the Knicks’ star. Losing Anthony’s effectiveness makes coming away with a win even more of an uphill battle for New York, so all that Anthony himself can do is try his best to fight past Ibaka’s defense. No matter how you look at it, this battle is going to be the one that decides the game.
X-Factor: J.R. Smith
If Anthony is off his game for any reason, it is absolutely critical that Smith be on his in every way, shape and form. The Sixth Man of the Year candidate is averaging a career-best 17.8 points per game and is shooting 42 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from beyond the arc.
He has been nothing short of excellent over his last five games, posting 23 points and 6.2 rebounds while making 49 percent of his attempts from the floor and 48 percent of his threes. This can be attributed to his being more than just a dunker and shooter this season, as Smith has done a great job of creating off the dribble and mixing up his offense in most games this year.
That needs to be the case against the Thunder, who can easily overwhelm any opponent from the get-go with their scoring attack. So long as Smith can be at his best along with the rest of his teammates, New York has a shot at winning. Otherwise, the winning streak could be in danger.
I hate to say it, Knicks fans, but today is when the winning streak comes to an end. Oklahoma City is just too strong and balanced, not to mention less than a year removed from a trip to the NBA Finals.
Durant and Anthony will surely go toe-to-toe all game long in the race for the scoring title, but New York just won’t be able to keep up with the Thunder.
Oklahoma City Thunder 108, New York Knicks 102