The New York Knickerbockers (2-4) will make their first and only trip to the nation’s capital tonight to take on the winless Wizards at 7 p.m. The Knicks will play on the road tonight, but have built a six-game winning streak against the Wizards, and haven’t lost at the Verizon Center in nearly two calendar years. While they’re struggling defensively, the Wizards can neither score nor pass the ball, averaging just 85.2 points, the second-lowest mark in the league, with an Eastern Conference-worst 14.8 assists. For our latest 3-on-3 preview, John Converse Townsend and Kyle Weidie are joined by Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) of the SB Nation blog Bullets Forever to discuss a few of tonight’s top storylines.
1. Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni and Washington general Flip Saunders are in trouble according to ESPN TrueHoop editors Henry Abbott, J.A. Adande and Kevin Arnovitz. Who will outlast whom?
PRADA: D’Antoni will outlast Saunders, because while the Knicks are struggling, the Wizards are often looking like a team that isn’t even capable of competing. The Knicks also have some new pieces to integrate, particularly on the back line with the Tyson Chandler situation. I suspect both will be fired — New York isn’t exactly a patient place — but I’m banking on Saunders getting the ax first.
TOWNSEND: Mike D’Antoni’s Knicks have stumbled out of the blocks with four losses in their first six games, but they still have a chance to regain their balance and push for a respectable finish. Meanwhile, the Wizards looked at the line of hurdles ahead of them and quit. The Wizards have yet to win a game; not once in the franchise’s 50-year history has the team started a season so poorly. Even the players have begun to turn on one another. Saunders has said he’s “tired of looking at [this] sh*t,” and it is hard to believe his face will be stuck in this muck for much longer.
WEIDIE: The pressure is always on for a coach in the Big Apple, but the Knicks also have top-heavy talent capable of quickly turning around a string of wins (possibly aided by the fact that New York’s next three games are against the Wizards, Pistons and the Bobcats team that just beat them). Saunders, on the other hand, continues to show signs that he’s losing the grip on his players. That is, if he ever had one. If his team keeps displaying low levels of effort, he can’t last much longer.
2. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported that fan favorite Iman Shumpert will not not be in the Knicks starting lineup vs. the Wizards, but what type of impact will the rookie have off the bench?
PRADA: He plays hard on both ends and makes plays, whether good or bad. In many ways, he’s in the Jordan Crawford-in-April-2011 stage, where fans have forgiven his shortcomings and poor shot selection because he plays his ass off. That’s more than can be said at times than with Landry Fields, after all. If he starts, Nick Young better be prepared for a battle on both ends.
TOWNSEND: The Wizards must force the former Yellow Jacket off the three-point line. Shumpert scored 12 of his 18 points from beyond the arc against the Bobcats on Wednesday night, his first game back from a knee injury sustained on Christmas Day. Expect Shumpert to make his presence felt on the glass, too. Shumpert is averaging 4.5 boards per game and his defensive rebounding rate* is an impressive 19.9, a mark better than Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Kyle Lowry, and Rajon Rondo (who had 18 rebounds in two meetings vs. the Wizards this season).
*Defensive Rebounding Rate: percentage of defensive rebounds grabbed by a player during his time on the court.
WEIDIE: I haven’t seen much of Shumpert and am curious about the hype. He might inject some energy into a Knicks lineup desperate for a win. The rest could either take care of itself with Washington guards finding a way to shoot themselves out of the game. More likely, however, is Nick Young — yes, Washington’s Nick Young — finding a way to go off against New York’s porous perimeter defense.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Washington Wizards will shoot a season high 42.3% or better vs. a Knicks defense that is “just awful to look at“?
PRADA: Fact, since it’s a home game. But I don’t think it’ll lead to a victory.
TOWNSEND: Fact; the Knicks are allowing opponents to score 99.2 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting (99.75 PPG on 49.25 percent shooting away from Madison Square Garden). Note: ESPN’s AccuScore-powered PickCenter Plus projects the Wizards to shoot 44 percent from the field tonight, almost 5 percent higher than the team’s season average (39.2 percent), but lose 106-98.
WEIDIE: Fiction. The Wizards shot their best against Boston’s old legs on the second night of their home-and-home set. The Knicks come to D.C. on a day’s rest, seemingly motivated by desperation due to dropping two in a row against Toronto and Charlotte at home. The Wizards may or may not be motivated by players only meetings and general disarray. I would trust the team with veteran, albeit defensive liabilitiy superstars in Amar’e and ‘Melo to somehow get the defensive stops over the ability of a young team with no true shot creators to make over 42-percent.
- It’s tough to raise good crops in bad soil. SportingNews’ Sean Deveny reports that the Wizards must focus on Wall’s future as the bad habits pile up in D.C.: “[Wall] needs to play better. But there is frustration, too, with the rest of the roster and whether it suits Wall’s playmaking skills. Some in Wall’s camp look with envy at the kind of team that the Bulls put around Derrick Rose. Wall, though, came into a tougher situation. He has been nothing but professional—and a good teammate—but a source close to him told Sporting News that there is concern about how Wall will develop as a player with a Wizards group that is lacking in basketball IQ, that ranks 29th in points and field-goal percentage, last in offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive efficiency. ‘You can’t raise good crops in bad soil,’ the source said.’ “
- Jim Cavan of Knickerblogger.net with some thoughts on defense, toughness and protecting the paint: “Need a little extra push? Your front line — deemed by many in the wake of the Chandler signing the best in the league — has spearheaded the following gems: 23rd in defensive efficiency, 26th in offensive rebounding rate, 22nd in defensive rebounding rate, and 28th in total rebounding rate. … This needs to stop.”
- Magic Basketball’s Nate Drexler, armed with a Flip cam, set out to find out how Orlando remembers Rashard Lewis. One Magic player doesn’t have anything positive to say about Rashard Lewis, however. Click through to find out who’s holding a grudge.
BONUS! Life in the D-League is rarely comfortable, reveals second-year center Hamady N’Diaye who is spending some time with the Iowa Energy:
@H55ndiaye: Really!! I had to remove the roof to take a shower!not fair!!the hotel not made for 7″ may not even fit 6″