The Hawks (25-29) will host the Knicks (21-34) Saturday night as they look to snap an 8-game losing streak. Both teams will be playing their fourth game in five nights, and both are coming off of road losses — Atlanta in Detroit and New York in Orlando. Like the Hawks, the Knicks are struggling as of late, losing seven of their last nine games after a four-game winning streak in January that seemed to show that the Knicks had turned the corner.
Alas, the Knicks deficiencies, particularly on the defensive end where they tied for fifth worst in the NBA in defensive rating at 106, have returned of late. The Knicks defensive issues start with their struggles against the pick-and-roll, ranking last in the NBA in points per possession allowed against both pick-and-roll ball-handlers and roll-men. Along with pick-and-roll, the Knicks struggle to defend most any off-ball movement, ranking last against cuts and 27th against off-ball screens.
New York also struggles to defend the three-point line — this issue stems from their other, larger issues — and this is an area the Hawks excel in. When operating correctly, the Hawks offense is predicated on rapid ball-movement and pick-and-roll/pop action to initiate the offense. Playing with pace and moving the ball — which are always points of emphasis — would make the Hawks offense even more effective going up against a defense that struggles defending in those areas. Kyle Korver‘s ability to create space for himself by working off the ball and running through mazes of screens will be something to watch for against a team that struggles in that regard.
On offense, the Knicks rely heavily on Carmelo Anthony to carry the load. Anthony is averaging 27.8 points per game along with 8.6 rebounds while shooting 45.2% from the field and 41.7% from three. In the loss to Orlando, Anthony had 44 points and 11 rebounds for his third 40 point/10 rebound performance of the season — second in the NBA to Kevin Love. The rest of the Knicks offense comes in fits and starts. Raymond Felton has struggled initiating the offense, and the rest of the Knicks scoring options – JR Smith, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Iman Shumpert, etc. — have been sporadic at best.
Shutting down Anthony is a near impossible feat, but controlling him on the offensive glass — where he is terrific at grabbing his own misses and making put-backs — and keeping him on the perimeter will be crucial for the Hawks’ defensive success. DeMarre Carroll‘s health will be a factor in how the Hawks defend Anthony. In their first meetings, both Carroll and Paul Millsap split the duty. With Carroll’s hamstring still bothering him, if he is limited then Millsap and likely Mike Scott will spend much of their time defending Anthony — who has been playing more at the four in Andrea Bargnani‘s absence.
Forcing Anthony to being relatively inefficient and not allowing him to easily get to his spots on the floor will be of the utmost importance to the Hawks defensively. On offense, moving the ball and attacking the Knicks’ porous pick-and-roll defense will be the best way to find success. If they can execute on those two fronts, the Hawks have a great chance of ending this losing streak.
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