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Mystery envelops Thunder-Knicks skirmish

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Will KD play? Will Melo play? Will any important Knick play? Will the game even happen tonight?

If there's one man who can take on Hoth with a warm-weather animal, it's Russell Westbrook.
If there's one man who can take on Hoth with a warm-weather animal, it's Russell Westbrook.
William Bennett Berry

The Knicks are 3-1 over their last four, and the New York blizzard gave them a chance to skip a scheduled game against the Sacramento Kings. Carmelo Anthony, the main catalyst behind the three wins in terms of scoring, is questionable for tonight's game. In the Knicks' one recent loss without Melo, New York only managed to score 71 points.

Melo isn't the only player facing injury issues for New York, though. Amare Stoudemire, who combined for 23 poins and 13 boards in two of the wins, is doubtful for tonight's game with nagging ankle and wrist injuries. Jose Calderon, who played in all three of the wins, is questionable for tonight's game with a knee injury. Andrea Bargnani rounds out the Knicks' injury list, and he may actually get time. Bargs has only seen the floor twice this season, but could be a seriously potent offensive weapon (and lousy defensive liability).

Obviously, the Knicks' competitiveness against the Thunder will hinge on the ability of these four players to go. Without them, they simply don't have the offensive firepower to compete. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a dynamite playmaker, and new acquisition Langston Galloway can definitely hit shots when left open. But they're not enough to build an offense around, especially when nobody else is able to create their own shot.

Still, even a banged-up Knicks squad isn't to be underestimated. New York is more than capable of packing the paint and winning the rebounding battle. New York is actually the fifth worst rebounding team on the year, but the face of the team has changed a lot. Fact is, when Smith, Amundson, Aldrich, and Stoudemire see the front court minutes, it's hard to stop this team on the boards. Their centers are big, and their power forwards are old and crafty. But their interior defense is still atrocious, so the Thunder should do all they can to attack the paint.

Interestingly enough, if Melo is injured, the Knicks will be starting Lance Thomas. As you probably remember, Lance Thomas started a few games for the Thunder early in the season. It was completely unexpected, as Thomas was a training camp signee and didn't look terribly impressive in the Pre-season. But a rash of injuries forced him into action, and Thomas developed a reputation as a really hard working defense-first player with a streaky mid-range jumpshot. Still, Lance lost a ton of games, eventually got buried in the rotation, and was dished to New York as part of the Dion Waiters deal. Thomas could definitely effect the game tonight, as he could be assigned to guard KD.

Speaking of KD, his status for tonight's game is completely up in the air. He injured his toe driving to the basket late in the Cleveland game. It didn't appear to be serious, but Durant noticed more soreness when he showed up for the Timberwolves game the next day. KD was held out, and is listed as questionable for tonight. Given the caliber of opponent, I could see the Thunder electing to sit KD if the issue is serious.

Without KD, the Thunder's offense struggles to find their shot. The only shooting specialist is Morrow, and it's hard to get him open. This results in tons of open threes for Ibaka, Waiters, Westbrook, Jackson and even Roberson. But none of those five players has been able to prove that they can hit the shot consistently, all for various reasons. This leaves OKC in a serious offensive hole when they're not hitting, as you might have seen against Minnesota on Monday night. The result is a Thunder team that has to rely on reckless drives to the hoop, inefficient mid-range jumpers, trick plays, and defense turning into offense.

Of course, the Thunder have been perfectly successful against the Knicks without KD before, on November 28th. That was a more demoralized Knicks team that lost a lot of momentum early. But the Knicks also played a ton of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Samuel Dalembert in that game. Those players were responsible for a lot of what happened, so I'd argue that New York will be a little tighter defensively today.

Really though, unless the Knicks get a rash of good health, I'm expecting the Thunder's reserves to blow this one open. I don't think KD will play, severely reducing the effectiveness of the starters. Brooks will likely go with Jones in his place, and Jones plays very poorly next to Andre Roberson. I think that might allow New York to tread water for a while, but there's no way that they can handle Waiters or Jackson. Old man Prigioni won't be able to stay in front of either of them, and Larkin is undersized. Also, Reggie Jackson has probably had tons of practice scoring over Cole Aldrich, so take that for what it's worth.

Anyway, a Knick loss makes everyone happy. Let the New York tank roll through the snow, while OKC continues to claw back through this bodacious Western Conference.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, New York Knicks 89.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 46
@
23-22
(Won 1)

22-22
(Lost 2)
January 26th, 2015
Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Madison Square Garden Television
Injury Report: Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani (Questionable), Amare Stoudemire (Doubtful). Mitch McGary (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Nov 28 (W 105-78)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Langston Galloway (or Jose)
Andre Roberson SG Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Kevin Durant SF Lance Thomas (or Melo)
Serge Ibaka PF Lou Amundson
Steven Adams C Jason Smith