Knicks-Bulls Preview

New York Knicks Status Check:
Record: 51-26
Division: 10-6
Conference: 34-13
Road Record: 22-16
Last 10 Games: 10-0
Streak: Won 13
Last game: 120-99 win over Washington
PPG: 100.0 (11th)
Opponents PPG: 95.6 (7th)
Offensive Rating: 111.2 (3rd)
Defensive Rating: 106.3 (18th)
Pace: 89.8 (26th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .516 (7th)
Turnover Percentage: .118 (1st)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .148 (5th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .258 (19th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .200 (19th)
Opp. eFG%: .509 (23rd)
Opp. TO%: .148 (5th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .215 (23rd)
Leading scorer: Carmelo Anthony (28.6)

Stats from Basketball-Reference

Knicks Injury Report:
Marcus Camby: doubtful (plantar fasciitis)
Tyson Chandler: expected to be out (bulging disc in back)
Kenyon Martin: expected to be out (sprained ankle)
Amare Stoudemire: out (knee surgery)
Kurt Thomas: out (stress fracture in foot)
Rasheed Wallace: out (foot surgery)

Back-to-back losses to subpar teams aren’t exactly how you want to enter a game against a team that has won 13-straight contests, but that’s the way it goes for the Bulls tonight. With five games left in the season, the Bulls are tied with Atlanta for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Chicago has one fewer loss than the Hawks as it stands now, and they also hold the tiebreaker, but dropping to the sixth seed wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing for the Bulls. They’d have a chance to win in a series against the Pacers or Nets.

Before the playoffs start the Bulls have a chance to break another streak, something they’ve been doing all year. Streaks that the Bulls snapped this season, good and bad, include: Bobcats 18-game losing streak, Suns 12-game road losing streak, Detroit’s 18-game losing streak against Chicago and most importantly Miami’s 27-game win streak.

That means the 13 in a row that New York has won should be easy work for the Bulls.

If Chicago wants to win this one they’ll have to stop Carmelo Anthony, who is currently on a tear as he tries to hold on to the scoring title. Melo has scored 35 points in five straight games and is averaging 40.6 points, on 61.1 percent from the field and 58.6 from three. He is also grabbing 8.2 boards per contest this month, his highest total this season.

Compared to those numbers the Bulls have shut him down a little this season, but Melo has still been getting his buckets. Anthony is averaging 34.0 points in the two games he played against Chicago this year, shooting 42.1 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from deep. He has averaged 8.5 trips to the free throw line.

A reason that the Bulls could withstand Melo dropping 34 points per game is because Luol Deng played him great. In December, Deng scored 29 points and grabbed 13 boards, matching Melo’s 29 in the game, while shooting a little bit better from the field. In January, Melo scored 39 against the Bulls, but shot just 14-32. Deng went 13-18 from the field and finished with 33 points.

Deng is one of the Bulls’ best defenders and they could clearly use him against Anthony. Unfortunately, Lu has missed the previous two games and will be a game-time decision tonight.

The Bulls may have to rely on the young Jimmy Butler to slow Melo down. Butler is a good defender and is coming off a career-high 28 points, but he is a drop off from Deng on both ends. (that’s not a knock on Butler, who was by far the Bulls’ best player last time out against Toronto).

Surprisingly, the Bulls may not be the most injured team in this contest. The Knicks are missing all of their bigs from Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire, all the way to late season pickup Kenyon Martin. Add in Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby and that’s five big men that the Knicks are missing. Chris Copeland, who is officially listed as a small forward, is expected to start at center. That leaves Melo, most likely at the power forward spot.

With this tiny lineup for the Knicks, Nazr Mohammed should have his way on the inside. Just kidding, he will miss about 15 tip-ins again, but Carlos Boozer should have the advantage all night. The only question is whether Boozington will use his size and go to the basket, or do his usual fade-aways (Melo guards power forwards quite well, but Boozer still has a strength advantage and will hopefully use it to get to the hole).

What the game really boils down to though is three-point shooting. New York has shot 37.9 percent from deep against the Bulls this year, slightly better than the 37.8 they have shot on the season. The Knicks tied a franchise record with 20 three pointers in their last game against the Wizards. The Bulls are seventh best in the league at defending the three, allowing teams to shoot 34.7 percent.

Just as important is how the Bulls shoot the three. A big reason Chicago won the three previous games against the Knicks was because it shot 47.6 percent from beyond the arc, more than 12-percent better than they have on the season.

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