After a gutsy win over the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 27, the New York Knicks have little time to enjoy it. The team is set to visit the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on March 1, a team that stunned them the last time they faced off on Feb. 6.
Granted, the Knicks blew out the Wizards on Nov. 30, but that was before John Wall made his return from a knee injury. Now that he is back, the offense is complete and the play creation is at full force.
Simply put, the Knicks need to stop Wall and the Wizards' offensive attack in this game to extend their winning streak to three games. Matchups against lottery teams are going to be the most important ones down the stretch, and this game is no exception.
New York needs this win to keep pace in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division, and simply cannot afford to lose in Washington again. Since the Wizards will have an upset on their minds, fans should tune in to what is sure to be one intense game.
Time: Friday, March 1, 7 p.m. EST
TV: MSG, CSN HD
Records: New York Knicks (34-20) vs. Washington Wizards (18-38)
Betting Line: Not available as of Thursday, Feb. 28, 9:31 a.m. EST
Injuries: Rasheed Wallace (foot, out), Marcus Camby (foot, day-to-day), Cartier Martin (knee, day-to-day), Leandro Barbosa (knee, out), Jason Collins (undisclosed, day-to-day), Nene (shoulder, day-to-day), via ESPN
Key Storyline: Knicks Seek Revenge After Earlier Upset Loss
The Knicks and Wizards have met twice this season, and as I mentioned before, the first meeting on Nov. 30 was a blowout in New York's favor. Thanks to 20 points apiece from Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, the Knicks won 108-87 over a Washington team that was without its star player in point guard John Wall.
However, on Feb. 6, the Knicks visited the Wizards and Wall was back in the lineup. On a bad night for New York, Washington ran the table after the first quarter.
Thanks to 21 points and nine assists from Wall, Washington won 106-96 and shot a collective 55 percent from three-point range. Despite 31 points from Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks just could not keep up and shot just 32 percent from beyond the arc.
For Round 3, the Knicks cannot afford to put on another dismal performance. Their offensive attack needs to be strong and cohesive with tons of communication, and the defense must be fully locked in at all times, even if it means using the full-court press in the first quarter.
This is a game that is New York's to lose, and another loss would be a giant step back.
Key Matchup: Jason Kidd vs. Bradley Beal
The Knicks need Jason Kidd to snap out of his shooting slump and get back to being a solid three-point shooter, but not against Washington. In this game, they need him to be in full defensive mode against John Wall's primary go-to guy, rookie Bradley Beal.
You see, Wall's jump shot is the weakest part of his game, so he relies on driving the lane and play creation to spark the Wizards' offense. With Beal essentially taken out of the game, that becomes a lot tougher.
The former Florida Gator is averaging 13.9 points per game while shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 37 percent from long range, but has been on fire his last five games. Over that stretch, Beal is averaging 19.8 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc. For someone just 6'3", 207 pounds and only 19 years old, that's quite impressive.
This means that Kidd needs to abandon his offensive game and just focus on using his experience to lock Beal down. In doing so, Wall will be forced to use other less reliable players as his go-to guys, and that could put a damper on Washington's hopes for another upset.
If Kidd can be a defensive force and also sink a couple of three-pointers, then the odds will definitely swing in the Knicks' favor.
X-Factors: J.R. Smith and Steve Novak
A strong performance from the second unit is critical in the Knicks quest for a win in D.C., which means J.R. Smith and Steve Novak need to be at the top of their respective games.
Smith has been stellar as New York's sixth man this season, averaging 16.1 points per game and shooting an excellent 35 percent from long range. He has been streaky all year long, but just so happens to be on a hot one right now.
Over his last five games, Smith has averaged 18 points per contest while shooting 46 percent from the field and an amazing 50 percent from downtown. Once a pure shooter and dunker, he has done an excellent job of working to create his own shot and incorporate a mid-range game. If he is hitting his shots in this game against Washington, then the Knicks have a good chance at a win.
However, that won't be the case if Steve Novak is having an off-night. A pure three-point shooter, Novak did not have any points in the last game against Washington, and his ability to be a spark is well known.
Look at it this way. In games that Novak has played and scored no points, the Knicks are 4-5. In games where he hits double figures, they are 11-2.
The man known as "Novakaine" needs to be in absolute beast mode in Washington, even if it means sinking just one or two threes. He is so deadly from the corner and from long range in general, and New York really needs him for this game.
If he can get himself open while also incorporating his new mid-range game, then the Knicks definitely have a shot at winning. Otherwise, this could be another upset in the making.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Jason Kidd
SF: Iman Shumpert
PF: Carmelo Anthony
C: Tyson Chandler
PG: John Wall
SG: Bradley Beal
SF: Martell Webster
PF: Trevor Booker
C: Emeka Okafor
As much as Wizards fans would love to see another win over an elite team, it's not going to happen tonight. The Knicks' loss to Washington on Feb. 6 was a fluke, and the team will make up for it with a grand performance at the Verizon Center.
Carmelo Anthony will lead the way in scoring as Tyson Chandler has another epic game in the rebounding department. Jason Kidd may not score any points, but his defense on Beal will be top-notch and force the Wizards to think on the fly, not something that the young and inexperienced squad is used to.
The final nails in the coffin, however, will be key three-pointers from Steve Novak and J.R. Smith in the third quarter. Both men will be at the top of their game, sinking shots left and right and being simply unstoppable.
This is the recipe for a Knicks win, and this one will remind every NBA team that New York is not a squad to be counted out.
New York Knicks 107, Washington Wizards 95