Gameday Dish: Thunder vs. Knicks

New York Knicks v Detroit PistonsThe 44-16 Oklahoma City Thunder venture to midtown Manhattan tonight to take on the 37-21 Knicks. At first glance these two teams would seem to have little in common beyond their membership in Commissioner Stern’s club.

The Thunder were established when the Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, while the Knicks are one of the oldest franchises in the league. OKC is one of the smallest markets in pro ball; New York City is the biggest market this side of London or Seoul. The Thunder are the fifth youngest squad in the league; the Knicks have the oldest roster. And Oklahoma City has the National Cowboy Museum, while Gotham City is inhabited by millions of city slickers.

However, both the Thunder and the Knicks currently sit second in their respective conferences and lead their divisions. Both have won five of their last six games and are looking to make it three in a row with a W tonight. OKC has the league’s top scorer in Kevin Durant (28.6), and the Knicks have the second best scorer in Carmelo Anthony (28.2).

TLos Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunderhe Knickerbockers played last night in Detroit and came away with an 87-77 victory despite committing a season-high 21 turnovers – a surprising stat given that New York averages a league-low 12.1 turnovers per game.

This sloppiness with the rock may have been attributed to the fact that many of the Knicks were pressing to make up for Anthony’s lost production since he was forced to miss the game with a right knee injury that will keep him sidelined again this evening. The Knicks were led by 6th man extraordinaire Amare Stoudemire, who scored 22 points and had 9 boards in 31 minutes off the bench. Over the last six games Stoudemire has been on fire, shooting 72.9% from the field.

The Thunder last played Tuesday at home against the Lakers. Unlike the Knicks, Oklahoma had a franchise-record two turnovers in the contest and tied the NBA record – quite a feat considering they are the second-worst offenders in the league. Behind PG Russell Westbrook’s 37 points, 10 boards, 5 dimes and 2 steals, OKC held off a late Laker rally and prevailed 122-105. Westbrook has averaged a team-best 32.2 ppg over the last 6 contests.

Tonight’s 48 will be the first of two matchups between these two sides this season. Tune in to TNT at 8PM ET to watch the Knicks defend their home court against the young, hungry Thunder and their 17.1 fast break points per game.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Tyson Chandler

For fantasy owners looking to make some early adjustments to their rosters, 2012 NBA Defensive Player of The Year Tyson Chandler of the Knicks could be a valuable addition. The 2001 second overall pick out of Dominguez High School in Los Angeles won his first NBA title in 2011 with the Mavericks.

Last season, a three-team trade landed the 11th-year veteran in Gotham City, where he joined Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Together these three formed one of the most potent frontcourts in the league.

Playing in 62 of the lockout-shortened schedule of 66 games, 7’1” Chandler averaged 11.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg and almost 1 steal per contest. He posted game highs of 25 points, 17 boards (3X), 6 blocks and 4 steals.

Chandler’s partner in the paint, 6X NBA All-Star Stoudemire, missed 19 of the 66 contests due to injury. When Stoudemire was out of the New York lineup, Chandler’s numbers soared, especially on the boards.

On Wednesday, October 31st, Stoudemire had left knee surgery and won’t be available to coach Mike Woodson until the new year at the earliest. Even then, his effectiveness will be a question, and initially he’ll carry a limited workload.

The Knickerbockers will need Chandler to help pick up the slack left by Amar’e’s absence, so look for Chandler’s numbers to get a boost across the board.

Ask the Czar

Gary from Fredon, New Jersey has a question about New York Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni:

What is ‘different’ about Mike D’Antoni’s offense compared to what other teams in the NBA run? The usual explanation is his teams have good floor spacing and run a lot of pick and roll. But I’d imagine that every team in the league does that.

Coach D’Antoni assigns more responsibility to his point guard than do some of the other coaches in the league. D’Antoni puts the ball in the hands of the PG and lets him pound the ball until he can make a play happen, as opposed to other coaches who emphasize passing and ball movement. D’Antoni utilizes multiple pick-and-rolls to enable the point guard to create a shot for himself or his teammate.

D’Antoni also values the 3-pointer as an offensive weapon, so he likes to play a power forward who can shoot threes and to give guys like Amar’e Stoudemire the green light to attack from beyond the arc.

Gameday Dish: Knicks vs. Grizzlies

Gasol-Copyright 2012 NBAE - Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe New York Knicks come to The Bluff City to take on the Grizzlies tonight at The FedExForum. The guys from Gotham are riding high on a four-game winning streak, while the Memphis squad has been singing the blues of late.

Memphis had a tremendous run heading into the playoffs in 2011 and pounded their opponents on the boards, but they’ve had difficulty picking up where they left off due to injuries. Just prior to the late start of this shortened season the Griz lost 6’9” backup C/PF Darrell Arthur, who tore his Achilles tendon during practice. And they’ve been without their key big guy 12th-year PF 6’9” Zach Randolph since he injured his knee in the fourth game.

Randolph led the Grizzlies in both scoring and rebounding last year. Without Z-Bo’s interior toughness and at times prolific scoring and board work, Coach Lionel Hollins needs his other big men, especially 4th-year 7’1” C Marc Gasol, to step up their production, execution and intensity. This is especially important tonight with the Knicks boasting what many basketball brains consider the top frontcourt in the 30-team league. With 10th-year 6’11” 6X-All Star PF Amar’e Stoudemire, 9th-year 6’8’ 4X-All Star SF Carmelo Anthony and the new addition of 11th-year 7’1” shot-blocking C Tyson Chandler, coach Mike D’Antoni’s frontline is formidable at both ends of the court.

Copyright 2012 NBAE - Photo by Dan Lippitt/NBAE via Getty ImagesNew York last played yesterday, which may bode well for Memphis. The Knicks beat a Philadelphia team that was on a six-game winning streak 85-79. Carmelo Anthony had 27 points and 9 boards; Amar’e Stoudemire scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds; and Tyson Chandler led both teams with 13 boards in the victorious effort at MSG.

Tonight’s contest is the second of a four-game home stand for the Grizzlies, who were an impressive 30-11 at home last year. They played and lost on Tuesday to the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-95, their third loss in a row. After the Knicks, the Griz host New Orleans and then Chicago, so a win tonight could be just the answer to get Rudy Gay and company over their early season struggles. On the flip side, an ‘L’ to the men from MSG will leave the Grizzlies searching for answers.

Memphis’ backcourt trio of PG Mike Conley, SG O.J. Mayo and SG/defensive stopper Tony Allen will be matched up against the Knicks young one and two. 2nd-year SG Landry Fields and rookie combo guard Iman Shumpert have handled much of New York’s backcourt burden along with 3rd-year PG Toney Douglas. So while most of the attention will be paid to the Knicks front three triumvirate, the battles at the guard positions may ultimately decide this game.

Marv Albert, Reggie Miller and I will bring you the first matchup of tonight’s doubleheader on TNT when the Memphis Grizzlies host the New York Knicks at 8:00 PM EST.

Gameday Dish: Bulls vs. Knicks

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.