New York City is the unofficial capitol of the basketball world and Madison Square Garden in the heart of Midtown Manhattan is the hoops-headquarters. Tonight ‘the most famous arena in the world’ will be on fire for a highly charged matchup featuring two teams that are on the upswing and hoping to return to their glory days.
The Chicago Bulls are hands-down the hottest team in the NBA right now. And they come to New York with a chance to finish the 2010-2011 NBA season with the best record in the entire 30-team league. First-year coach Tom Thibodeau has already led the Bulls to the top seed in the Eastern Conference at 60-20 with two games remaining on the schedule.
After finishing 41-41 last year and losing in the first round to the then LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers 4-1, this team has demonstrated dramatic improvement through defense and a general group maturation. Throw in veteran PF / first-year Chicagoan Carlos Boozer, a deep and reliable bench, and a soon-to-be-named youngest-ever league MVP at the 1-guard, and you have the makings of a team capable of winning title number 7 for the Chicago-land faithful. Title 6 came 13 years ago in 1998, completing the Jordan Bulls second three-peat.
The Rose Bulls are currently on a seven game winning streak and have won 19 of their previous 21 contests. They are second in the league in team defense, allowing a lock-down 91.3 points against. And when third-year, do-everything PG Derrick Rose and teammates win, they usually do it rather convincingly as they lead the league in point-differential at +7.3.
The Knickerbockers of New York at 42-38 occupy the East’s sixth seed heading into a first round playoff series with their Atlantic Division rival Boston Celtics. On their own 7-game consecutive victorious run, coach Mike D’Antoni has the new-look-Carmelo-finally-in-Gotham Knicks playing winning, up-tempo basketball. They have a dynamic offense led by the eighth-year 6’8” F Anthony’s 25.6 ppg (3rd in the NBA) and ninth-year 6’10” C/F Amaré Stoudemire’s 25.4 ppg (5th in the NBA). The Knicks rank second in the NBA in team offense at 106.8 ppg and appear to be gelling after some transitional difficulties post-Melo acquisition from Denver in mid-February.
After finishing last season at 29-53, the guys in the Blue, Orange and Black have America’s biggest town buzzing for the first time in nearly a decade. In fact, the Knicks will finish with a winning record for the first time since the 2000-2001 season. And this postseason will mark their first visit to the playoffs since a 39-43 Knick team got swept in the 2004 first round by their Hudson River rivals, the New Jersey Nets.
Tonight the MSG boys will attempt to complete a season series sweep of the Big Shoulder boys. Marv and I will be in the booth along with David Aldridge on the sidelines to bring you the Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks at 8:00 PM ET on TNT.