Tonight the (2-2) New York Knicks will look to improve upon their early season record when they host the Toronto Raptors.
The Knicks are coming off a (1-2) West Coast trip which they salvaged a win against the Sacramento Kings. During that win the Knicks had their best passing game of the early season as demonstrated by the 26 assist they amassed against the Kings who only connected on 15 dimes. Against the Kings the Knicks used screens and picks more adeptly to get their guards and wings inside penetration. That penetration resulted in better scoring attempts inside, passing attempts to teammates cutting inside as the defense collapse and kick outs that freed up Knicks shooters on the perimeter.
As a result the Knicks had their best shooting game on their three game west coast trip against the Kings -- the teams best shooting game overall was against the Boston Celtics. Moreover, the Knicks were able to be more effective in the paint against the Kings-- tallying 42 points in the paint against Sacramento's 46. Previously the Knicks had been outscored in the paint by 18 (Celtics), 12 (Warriors) and 18 (Lakers) points respectively. The penetration and ball movement amongst teammates while in Sacramento also resulted in six Knicks reaching double figures in scoring -- their previous highs had been four Knicks in double figures against the Warriors (loss) and Celtics (win).
Although Knicks were out rebounded against the Kings they had their highest rebounding total on Saturday 43 (26D/17O). Josh Harrellson (12 [7D/5O] rebounds) filled in as the teams starting Power forward. A curious statistic in the Sacramento game involved the Knicks disappearance at the Charity stripe. During their previous three games the Knicks got to the line and connected at the stripe at a higher clip than their opponents. Against the Kings the Knicks reversed that course. You have to wonder whether the improvement in spacing, screening, ball and man movement resulted in cleaner looks and penetration for the Knicks, which may have also resulted in less visits to the line.
The Raptors are coming off a loss against the Magic in which a three point barrage by Orlando withered a lead Toronto had held throughout most of the game -- including a game high 16 point lead. Previously, the Raptors sole win of the season came against the Cleveland Cavaliers -- a game in which the Raptors had their best passing game (36 assists) and beat the Cavaliers on the boards while producing their best overall shooting game. In their following two losses the Raptors lost close games where they matched their opponents in most categories but coughed up the ball more often. Overall, The raptors have turned the ball over at a much higher clip than their adversaries, which is a signs of a young team--as are of course the Raptors three close losses this season.
Tonight's game against the Raptors is a game that the Knicks should be able to win, given the Raptors woes in close games and with turn overs. Yet, the fact that Toronto has played three close games against three former playoff teams from a year ago -- Pacers, Mavericks and Magic -- means that the Raptors should not be taken lightly. Overall offensively the raptors have shot the ball better from both distance and inside and have moved the ball better than the Knicks. Defensively the Raptors are also better at limiting their opponents shooting percentage. Yet, the Knicks are ranked as the better overall defensive team-- also when adjusted for pace in contrast to the raptors.
The possible absence of Amar'e Stoudmire for tonight's game is difficult to assess given his slow start this season in the absence of chemistry with the offense and his point guard, Toney Douglas. But Amar'e had exceptional games against the Raptors last year when he squared off against his rival Amir Johnson. Yet, If the Knicks can continue to improve upon the good offensive elements demonstrated in their victory against the Kings, they should be able to take advantage of a Raptors team playing the tail end of a back to back.