If there has been a NBA team more tragic than the Clippers in the last ten years, it’s the New York Knicks. Cursed with a front office lead by Isaiah Thomas and an owner that might be as bad as Sterling in James Dolan, the Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since 2003-2004 when they still had a 39-43 record. They lost in the first round of the playoffs. To find the nearest shred of dignity, the nearest season was the 2000-2001 season when Jeff Van Gundy coached the team to 48 wins and, like 2004, a first round loss.
Like the Clippers they’ve been in perpetual rebuilding mode and, now, after 2 years of hardline cost cutting with the hope of luring top talents like LeBron to the Garden, they only managed to sign Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton. There are some young pieces with Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, but neither are franchise cornerstones. So far in this early season, the season that the fans have been promised would be worth the years of shedding Isaiah’s terrible contracts, they are 5-8 and sitting outside of the playoff cut in 9th place potentially burdened with Amar’e's 5 year, $99 million dollar contract. They do have some young talent in Landry Fields, Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph, but Randolph has found his way into the dog house just like he did with Nellie in Golden State, Mozgov is a foul machine (2.3 fouls in only 13 minutes of play) and Fields, while surprisingly productive, is still just a rookie.
Yes, the Knicks are always in rumors involving Carmelo Anthony (and to a lesser extent Steve Nash), but they don’t seem like a likely place to land considering they don’t have a first round pick until 2013 and their expiring contract is Eddy Curry (Yeah, expirings are important, but did you see what the Peja expiring contract brought back? The Hornets got Jack). Not an enviable position. All things considered, they are better off right now, but their future doesn’t have the same luster that had as recently as six months ago. The Knicks lost out on LeBron James and it looks like they’ll need a miracle move to get Anthony. They have four more wins than the Clippers, and are only a half of a game out of a playoff spot, but they aren’t that much better off than the 1-12 Clippers.
As for tonight, the Clippers are going to have their hands full, no surprise given their uninspired play. It starts at guard where Raymond Felton just came off a ludicrous night, putting up a 35 point, 4 rebound, 11 assist, 4 steal and 1 block night. Granted it wasn’t exactly against a vaunted defense, Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis of the Warriors chased him around last night, but those are still great numbers. It’s conceivable that the Clippers would think of switching with Gordon onto Felton, but Landry Fields, their second round rookie shooting guard out of Stanford is a head taller than Bledsoe at 6’7″.
It also won’t be easy because Felton’s PnR partner is the lethal Amar’e Stoudemire. He’s averaging almost 22 points and just over 8 rebounds a game somewhat proving to people that Steve Nash wasn’t inflating his stats (“somewhat” obviously because he’s still playing in a high powered D’Antoni offense). There really isn’t much of a weakness to Amar’e's offensive game. He can shoot out to 18 feet no problem, he rolls off picks well, can post players up (somewhat rare) or beat them with his face-up game. Blake is going to have his hands full, but he should be able to handle Amar’e because he is at least as athletic as him and Blake is much stronger. Amar’e's length could bother Blake, but Amar’e has never been known to be solid man on man defender and he gets most of his blocks off of the weakside.
Additionally, the Knicks have two good small forwards in Gallinari and Chandler. Gallinari could be especially destructive as the Clippers have been atrocious guarding the corner three and the Rooster is a more than capable three point shooter. Al-Farouq will have to find ways to hedge on perimeter penetration while still being able to recover for close-outs. Yeah, I’m less than thrilled about that too.
Lastly, pace will be a factor for even the most veteran teams when they are playing a D’Antoni team. Free flowing and speedy, it’s hard not to get drawn into their style of play, especially when the team is built like the Clippers, where they’ll want to get out and run with them. However, they can’t let their mindset turn to offensive speed. The Clips need to focus on maintaining defensive focus and turning out their offense from there.