[Thanks to Ozzie Montana for today's game preview. Merry Christmas! -ed.]
*Cue John Tesh music, Ahmad Rashad on the sidelines, Peter Vescey and Bob Costas in the studio, Spike Lee mugging for the camera*
BOGANS, MOZGOV. IT'S THE BULLS AND KNICKS AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN ON THE NBA ON NBC.
(I know Bill Simmons gets all cunty when someone riffs on jokes that he no doubt invented, so here's your credit).
For must of us, Bulls-Knicks is what we grew up on. It's what turned us from mere Michael Jordan aficionados into die-hard Bulls fans that foamed at the mouth at any mention of Anthony Mason, John Starks, or Xavier McDaniel. No, this isn't our childhood Bulls/Knicks rivalry but what we do have is a meeting of two young, exciting teams on the upswing. Our beautiful Bulls of Chicago, and the Knicks from some city I've never heard of and most likely has nothing to offer besides pimps and CHUDs.
The days of the Knicks being a national punchline are sadly behind us, but fortunately Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni have turned this long dormant team into one of the most exciting shows in the NBA. Spurned by LeBron and Wade, they still manged to sign Amar'e Stoudemire to finally give New York that star attraction they've been desperate for. While the production increase from David Lee to Stoudemire may not have been worth the overpay, there's no denying STAT has brought a sense of winning and dare I say it, professionalism to a ballclub that's rarely sniffed it. After a very slow start that had Amar'e questioning the heart of his teammates, they responded with a huge winning streak. We've seen them fall back to Earth a little bit after tough home losses to Boston and Miami last week, but this is still a very dangerous team for our shorthanded Bulls. Stoudemire is an offensive machine as usual, and weak on defense and the boards. Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler have been rejuvenated by the D'Antoni machine, posting big scoring numbers on high efficiency. Danilo Gallinari is still not showing much besides an excellent shooting touch. Someone named Landry Fields has turned into the poor man's Shawn Marion. I predict he annoys us for a long time to come.
Anyone who has watched the Suns and Knicks for the past 5-6 years knows exactly what kind of team this is. They push the pace to the point of exhausting their opponent. Quick shots are the norm, and almost exclusively pick and roll in the halfcourt with Felton and Stoudemire. Fields, Gallinari, and Chandler can all shoot the 3 with consistency and off the bench we all remember what happens when Toney Douglas catches fire. On the other side of the ball, the Knicks either don't care or don't know how to defend. 23rd in team defense (worse than any of the SSOL Suns teams), allowing teams to shoot 47% from the field and 38% from behind the arc. As with any D'Antoni team they are small up front and if bullied enough can be taken care of.
Unfortunately, a game where the physicality of Noah and Boozer, complemented by Asik and Taj would have been a huge advantage has turned into a scenario where the Bulls just might have to beat the Knicks at their own game. Stoudemire is a matchup nightmare for us. Put Kurt Thomas on him and he just blows right past and gets to the hoop. Put Boozer on and you risk putting your 2nd best player in serious foul trouble. Neither Taj or Omer have the physicality or benefit from the refs to contain him as well. Fortunately, Boozer should be able to match Amare's production considering he'll be guarded by the smaller Landry Fields. The key to winning, as always, is how much can Derrick Rose dominate this game? We've seen how much the floor opens up when Boozer gets it going in the post, Derrick needs to take advantage of a defense that isn't going to put up much resistance. This is a matchup of two distinct philosophies. Can the Bulls ugly it up with their 3rd ranked D or will we see them succumb to the fast pace like their previous matchup in November?
I liked this matchup a lot better when Noah was healthy. Now, the teams look evenly matched with the obvious wildcard that there's an MVP candidate on either side that can go off and dominate this game. My prediction: Bulls 14940493850303.4, Knicks -0.5.
Now, some highlights to get you in the festive mood: