Knicks (47-26) vs Hawks (42-33)
7PM/ET on ESPN
Bravo Melo! Dropping 50 points against any team is an elite and celebratory feat. Critics may want to belittle it because LeBron James nor Dwyane Wade played, but I loved it even more for that exact reason. The sight of James and Wade looking helpless and pissed while Melo went on a shooting spree, on their court, brought immense joy to my life. It was an outstanding performance by Melo and further indicative that the Knicks have indeed forgotten about their bad stretch of games a couple of weeks ago. Instead, they’re moving full steam ahead plowing over teams in the process.
Moving onto tonight’s game against the Hawks…it’s the second game of a back-to-back for the Knicks. No matter how fatigued or hype they might be after last night, they must move on. It’s a new day and a new opponent awaits. It’s time to focus on beating the Hawks. The Easter Conference’s current fifth seed has been a bit inconsistent lately, going 6-4 in their last 10 games. But that’s no reason to sleep on them. The first and only meeting between the Hawks and Knicks, back in January, was competitive until the final buzzer. The Knicks ultimately pulled off the victory, but it took 42 points from Melo to do it.
Quietly, the Hawks have a solid trio of their own that goes largely unrecognized — Josh Smith (17.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Al Horford (17.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg), and Jeff Teague (14.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg). Together, these players have established a team chemistry that allows them to matchup well against almost any team in the league. As a center, Horford is extremely athletic which is problematic for opponents. He’s extremely efficient from the field, shooting 54% this season. Tyson Chandler is undecided about playing tonight which means Kenyon Martin may be tasked with keeping Horford in check.
Josh Smith and Melo will probably go at it all night. However, if Smith has any hope of slowing Melo down he’ll have to do a better job of defending him around the perimeter, and that’s a weak spot in Smith’s game. Last night, none of Melo’s 50 points came inside the paint. Scoring off the pick-n-roll, Melo has established himself as a legitimate threat from outside. And double teaming won’t help because at any given time, Melo can dish it out to Steve Novak, J.R. Smith, or even Iman Shumpert.
And finally, the Hawks’ backcourt of Jeff Teague and Devin Harris will put the Knicks’ transition defense to the test. They’re both quick, aggressive guards who like to accelerate and drive to the basket. Last night, the Knicks forced Norris Cole into seven turnovers. They’ll need to do more of that tonight against the Hawks to prevent them from getting off to a fast start.
The Knicks are playing with an unbeatable confidence lately. I think it’ll be another close finish, but ultimately, Knicks win.
NY Knicks @ Milwaukee Bucks: Friday @ 730PM/ET, MSG
photo via espn.com