The red-hot New York Knicks are in a position to extend their winning streak to 13 games, and they could have a fairly easy time of it tonight when the Washington Wizards visit Madison Square Garden. However, these are not the Wizards fans have come to know as the inexperienced losers of the past few seasons.
Though still a lottery team, Washington stands 29-48 on the season thanks to a much-improved John Wall, who has really stepped up as both a player and a leader this year. The Wizards are still very much hit or miss, but they at least will come out and compete in each and every game. Moreover, they already beat the Knicks once this year, back on Feb. 6.
With a season series split on the line, expect this game to be closer than anyone could possibly anticipate.
Time: Tuesday, April 9, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: MSG, CSN HD
Injury Report: Rasheed Wallace (foot, out), Marcus Camby (foot, out), Kurt Thomas (foot, out), Amar’e Stoudemire (knee, out), Kenyon Martin (knee, day-to-day), Leandro Barbosa (knee, out), Bradley Beal (leg, out), Trevor Booker (tailbone, day-to-day), Emeka Okafor (shoulder, expected to play)
Key Matchup: Tyson Chandler vs. Emeka Okafor
Now that Beal is out for the season, the Wizards are without a key scorer and go-to guy for Wall. This leaves Okafor as the next man in line to fill that role, but he’s going to have his hands full when being guarded by the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Chandler.
Okafor is averaging 9.9 points and nine rebounds per game this season, and has the size at 6’10”, 255 pounds to go toe-to-toe with Chandler in the paint. However, his field-goal percentage of 48 percent is a bit low for a center.
Take a look at the 7’1″, 240 pound Chandler, and one sees a completely different type of center. The man is averaging 10.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, and is also shooting an eye-popping 64 percent from the field. On top of that, he has the experience edge on Okafor.
Granted, Chandler is working his way back from a neck injury, but the fact that he managed 15 points, five rebounds and two blocks in New York’s recent game against the Oklahoma City Thunder shows that he’s inching closer and closer to being back to his old self.
That can only mean good things for the Knicks against Washington, as they can easily win as long as they can provide a balanced scoring attack on top of controlling the game in the paint, which means Chandler outclassing Okafor.
X-Factor: J.R. Smith
Speaking of scoring, New York will need plenty of it from Smith. The Sixth Man of the Year candidate is averaging 17.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, and is shooting 42 percent from the field and 35 percent from long range. When it comes to pure scoring, Smith has answered the bell and more off of the Knicks’ bench.
He has been even better over his last five games, averaging 20 points and 7.2 rebounds while making 43 percent of his shots and 36 percent of his threes. Granted, he has cooled off following a recent red-hot streak, but that doesn’t at all take away from his clutch nature and ability to mix up his offense, from shooting threes to creating off the dribble to even dunking.
This must be the case for Smith against the young Wizards. The more diversified his attack, the more likely he is to keep them guessing and swing the pendulum in the Knicks’ favor.
If he goes cold at any point, he can’t try and shoot his way out of trouble. Instead, he must find another way to put points on the board.
So long as that can be done effectively on his part, New York will easily have a shot at a 13th straight win.
All hot streaks are bound to come to an end at some point, but the Knicks’ will live on after this game. New York just has too much talent and has been too good as of late, and young Washington will struggle to keep up with it.
Wall may be lights out for the Wizards, but Carmelo Anthony will be all the better for the Knicks. Throw in key performances from Chandler, Smith and even Raymond Felton, and this game will belong to New York from the get-go.
New York Knicks 106, Washington Wizards 96