MERRY CHRISTMAS WTLC READERS! Whether you just stop by this blog occasionally or comment regularly, you're the reason I can keep doing what I love. Seriously, thank you! I hope your gifts today were totally Slammin'!
So, the Thunder are playing on Christmas Day, and finally got the nationally televised spot on ABC! That prospect alone is exciting, but I'm sure everyone was brought back down to Earth when they saw the name of our opponent: The New York Knicks.
But before you switch your DVR to the Nutcracker, consider this: The Knicks dropped 125 points on us late last season, the most to be dropped on the Thunder in regulation in nearly three years. Of course, that was a successful Knicks team that didn't have to deal with so many injuries, but they were largely the same people under the same coach, and there's no reason to think that they couldn't do so again.
Why? Well, much like the Raptors last night, the Knicks are good at doing two things: Swinging the ball to the weak side and scoring in transition. If the Knicks keep up with the Thunder's pace and space the floor well, then they could easily make this into a competitive game. Furthermore, the Knicks could will definitely go small or use their range and cause fits for Ibaka at power forward.
On an individual basis, you could also look at how effective Carmelo Anthony has been against Kevin Durant over the years. They always seem to get into an epic scoring battle, throwing clutch bucket after clutch bucket at each other until one of them emerges as the victor. With Melo in the East we don't get to see the matchup as frequently, but it's always fun to watch nonetheless.
Of course, I'm ignoring the reality of the Knicks current disposition, which is pretty disastrous. There's a great article over at Posting and Toasting about the state of the coaching situation, which basically leads you to believe that the stars have the keys to the car and are single-handedly running the team into the ground.
Furthermore, the team has had to deal with a slew of injuries, all season. Their two best point guards will definitely be out tonight, with four other players listed as maybes. Beno Udrih is a serviceable point guard replacement, but the Knicks bench might suffer if J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, or Tim Hardaway, Jr. had to spend time at the position. In terms of their other injuries, the Knicks are deeper than most teams, but they would be in serious trouble if they had to start giving time to Cole Aldrich, Toure' Murray, or Chris Smith. Also, of course, if Carmelo Anthony is out, all bets are off.
On the Thunder's side of things, it appears that Perry Jones has stormed his way into the regular rotation, getting extended minutes in crunch time against the Raptors after a great second quarter stretch. Brooks has been fond of putting in random players during the fourth quarter, but given the circumstances I'd say that Jones is definitely held in high regard. Meanwhile, Thabo Sefolosha has seen his minutes steadily decrease over the past few weeks, and he's now rarely looked to in crunch time. This can be partly attributed to the great play of Lamb and Jackson, but it can also be attributed to a slight offensive dip, especially from three. Thabo has natural ebbs and flows in his game so I'm not too concerned, but I'd definitely keep an eye on the situation.
So, assuming that the Knicks are healthy, they've got a decent shot of challenging the Thunder. If it does come down to that, it will really be a question of whether the team offensively clicks or not. They seem to have entirely different identities every single night. The only really consistent thing about them is their ability to protect the ball, but it doesn't mean a whole lot when you're ice cold from the field. As long as the Thunder don't over-pressure the Knicks and can take advantage of the Knicks tendency to foul a lot, they should be able to emerge from this one unscathed. But with the game in the Garden and Melo possibly set to do a Willis Reed impersonation, who knows?
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 115, New York Knicks 109.
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