New York Knicks (13-19) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-30)
Tuesday, January 6
Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM CST
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
The other view: Knickerblogger
Throw out the first meeting between these two. Just take it, wad it up and toss it. Because much has changed since these two squads hooked up. November's 116-106 win for the Knicks saw Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford both tossing up 29 point games as New York stormed out to a big lead and OKC fought from behind. But both Crawford and Randolph have been traded. Now OKC has to prepare for Al Harrington and Tim Thomas. Coach P.J. Carlesimo is gone. The Thunder welcomes in one new player as Nenad Krstic joins to fold. So basically, it's as if the two teams never met.
Really, the main thing to watch for tonight is what Nenad Krispy does or is given the opportunity to do. Scott Brooks has said he wants to "work" Krstic in, meaning play him a little and build his minutes. But what if he walks out on the floor and scored three buckets and grabs four boards in a minute? I have a feeling Brooks will say, "Screw it. He's playing 30 tonight." My guess for Krispy: 14 minutes, eight points, three rebounds, two assists and 19,000 highly encouraged people.
The Thunder actually match up fairly well against the Knicks. Much like OKC, the Knicks play pretty small. I like Russell Westbrook on Chris Duhon because Russell is quicker and Duhon is prone to made poor decisions when pressured. Westbrook had 19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists against the Knicks in the first meeting and for the most part outplayed Duhon. Quentin Richardson isn't the same scorer he used to be. Wilson Chandler can be electric but at this point, I'm taking Kevin Durant over about 90 percent of the league's small forwards. Jeff Green could really give Harrington trouble on the offensive end, but Green's going to need help guarding the bigger Harrington. And Robert Swift versus David Lee is a total mismatch athletically so OKC will have to do something there. I don't know who will get the start, but Chris Wilcox might be able to neutralize Lee somewhat.
I actually lean to OKC to win this one for a few reasons:
A. Because the Knicks are coming off a big win over the Celtics two nights ago. To me, that's a red flag for a below average team to come out flat.
B. The Knicks are 5-11 on the road.
C. As mentioned, the matchups might favor OKC. The Knicks dominated Boston in the frontcourt. OKC doesn't get much from there anyway and relies mainly on its backcourt. Plus, adding a wildcard like Krstic could be a huge boost for the Thunder. I like Westbrook against Duhon, Durant against Chandler and Green offensively against Harrington. Lee could be tough for Swift, but Wilcox might be able to guard him. And we just concede shooting guard every night. Basically, you could put a fan out there and let him run around and you'd get about the same production.
But the real key is how will the Thunder respond after last Friday's 122-120 heartbreaker against the Nuggets. Some teams use it as extra motivation and come out looking to rectify and justify. Some come out sulking and mail it in for 48. Hard to say what will happen here. Last time the Thunder lost on a buzzer beater against the Pistons, they played poorly in Washington. But after Mike Miller's horn beater to give Minny a 105-103 win, the Thunder beat Memphis on the road. So who knows.
But much like the Golden State game, these are no longer the stay-close-and-hope-you-have-a-chance games. These are winnable games. OKC is better than four wins. But you've got to show it against the 13-19 teams too, not just against the best. The Thunder has somehow started gaining respect despite having the worst record. Another solid performance and win No. 5 could go a long way in helping build that respect.