Spurs vs. Knicks Give and Go Preview

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I had a great (for me) intro written to this piece about the Spurs putting on some great national TV appearances this season, thinking tonight’s game was on TNT. Well it’s not (thanks for the heads-up, Wayne). Instead, you get this crappy intro. At least the conversation below previewing tonight’s game is good.

I invited Jared Dubin, co-editor in chief of Hardwood Paroxysm and head honcho at HoopChalk, to talk to 48MoH about the rematch of the 1999 NBA Finals.

Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: You ready to talk Spurs-Knicks?

Jared Dubin, Hardwood Paroxysm: Sure, it will distract me from this Mike Conley thing I’ve been putting off writing for as long as possible.

AM: Mike Conley doesn’t deserve anyone’s full attention.

JD: He’s somehow become my 2nd favorite non-Knick behind Russell Westbrook, who I’m sure you hate too.

AM: I actually don’t hate Westbrook all that much because he takes so much hate from everybody else. I have only so much hate to dole out and I don’t want to pile on if it’s not needed.

JD: Hahaha that’s a large part of the reason I love him.

Anyway, Knicks-Spurs.

AM: So how much is the whole Carmelo-Anthony-at-the-4 thing happening? Is this legit or is it just a highly-publicized story?

JD: It’s entirely legit. I’m not sure he’s even really played the 3 at any point yet, and Woodson says he’s going to continue to start him at the 4, even against Memphis and Zach Randolph, so it seems like it’s sticking around for a while. At least until Amar’e gets back, and then everything’s up in the air.

And the reasons behind playing him at the 4 are legit, while the sample size of it working outrageously keeps growing. his numbers increased dramatically at the 4 from where they were when he played the 3 last year, and they’ve stayed at pretty much the same level at the 4 this year.

AM: And who is starting at the 3?

JD: Ronnie Brewer, with Jason Kidd at the 2. Brewer’s defense on the wings lets Melo slide to the 4, where Brewer doesn’t have to defend in space as much. He’s also been lurking behind the defense for back door cuts and corner 3s on pretty much every play. He was a veteran’s minimum pickup and other than Tuesday against Orlando when he was experiencing discomfort in his knee, he’s been well worth the money. Besides Melo, and maybe JR Smith (and maybe Shumpert when he comes back), no one else on the team can credibly defend small forwards at any point.

AM: Interesting. I’m trying to think who Boris Diaw (who I am guessing will start tonight, though it could be DeJuan Blair again) will defend, assuming Kawhi Leonard will get first dibs on Carmelo.

JD: I would think they could stick Boris on Brewer and get away with it. A few teams have tried that, where they put their small forward on Melo to negate the speed advantage, and stick a big on Brewer. Dallas did it with Jae Crowder and Elton Brand, and Orlando did it with Arron Afflalo and Big Baby Davis. What Melo’s done this year is attack the smaller guys going to the rim, whereas last year he may have just tried to shoot over them even more. And Brewer has continuously gotten let behind the defense for cuts.

AM: That’s kind of what I’m thinking. Although Pop could throw us a curveball and start Stephen Jackson at 4 and match the Knicks’ smallball. I doubt it, but it could happen.

JD: I was thinking the same thing and also doubted it would happen.

I could see it for stretches, but probably not for most of the game.

AM: I think Pop would rather have the two-big offensive advantage if he can hide one of the bigs defensively.

JD: Yep. Although forcing Melo to guard a perimeter-based player could flip the advantage the Spurs’ way on the offensive end. One reason Melo’s been so much better on defense this season is that he hasn’t had to guard in space as much as he did at the 3.

AM: So the Knicks are 5-0. How much of that is BS?

JD: I wouldn’t say BS so much as unsustainable. Nothing they’re doing is BS, they’re just doing everything it ridiculously efficient levels. They’re taking and making so many 3-pointers because they’re moving the ball so well and they’re constantly getting wide open (as in, nobody within 3-4 feet of the shooter) looks. The offense has looked surprisingly fluid and creative too, as I wrote the other day.

And the defense is the same stingy unit it was last season. Tyson Chandler anchors things inside, Brewer hounds the perimeter, and the increase in defensive effort from Melo and (gasp) JR Smith, has been key to it maintaining elite levels. The 2nd half defense has been particularly ridiculous. The Knicks haven’t let any oppponent score more than even 40 points in the 2nd half yet. They’re playing at a glacial pace, but their 2nd half defensive efficiency is a paltry 85.4, almost 10 points better than Chicago’s league-leading mark last season.

Also deserving credit on both ends is Jason Kidd, who’s been key to the ball movement, focus, discipline and lack of turnovers on offense, and the 3rd best mark in opposing turnovers despite the slow pace.

AM: The Spurs are masters at taking away those efficient shots, what do you expect to happen tonight?

JD: If the Knicks hold true to playing the way they’ve been playing so far with the exception of 2.5 quarters in Orlando, I expect to see a lot of Melo in the post, pick-and-rolls between Raymond Felton and Chandler, and JR Smith working on- and off-ball screens. If they stick with their strong player and ball movement, they’ll get the same open looks they’ve been getting. If not, the Spurs will shut them down and they’ll have to depend on their defense to win.

AM: Do you think the Knicks are capable of slowing down the Spurs’ offense? San Antonio isn’t playing like they were at the end of last season, but they still find open looks on the perimeter at will.

JD: The Knicks defense has been good enough to shut down anybody so far, but the Spurs are such a machine that I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the first team to solve it for a full game. If Chandler gets in foul trouble, the Knicks will have a lot of trouble defending pick-and-rolls. After strong defense in two garbage games, Sheed’s defense has fallen off a cliff, especially in space. Kurt Thomas has the love of the fans, but I thought his pick-and-roll defense was lacking when he played early on. And Marcus Camby still isn’t fully healthy. The Knicks have been forcing teams into bad shots all season, but the Spurs offense is geared around at-rim attempts and corner 3s, the most efficient in the game. If Tony Parker is repeatedly getting into the lane on pick and rolls, they can break the Knicks down systematically. A lot depends on the defense of Felton, Kidd and Pablo Prigioni tonight.

The Knicks won their first game at the AT&T Center, and haven’t won there since. This is without question the best team they’ve ever walked in there with, so if they don’t get it tonight it will probably never happen.

Also, I want to steal Danny Green from you guys.

AM: Technically, it was the SBC Center then, so they’ve really never won in the AT&T Center.

JD: Hahah that’s true.

WAIT.

Sheed and Captain Jack on the same court tonight is a special moment for the Internet.

It’s gonna be great.

AM: That’s very true.

JD: I really hope they guard each other at some point.

AM: I think we all need to take a moment and think about that. Kind of like giving thanks for everything you have, this is giving thanks for why basketball is so awesome.