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Nuggets at Knicks: A bit early for Melo, Nuggets in NYC (10am MST)

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Rookie Landry Fields's name has been popping up in Melo trade talk recently, with good reason.
Rookie Landry Fields's name has been popping up in Melo trade talk recently, with good reason.

The Nuggets are in New York to face the streaking Knicks, who are winners of 12 of thier last 13 games. It's an early start at Madison Square Garden, so let's hope the players have some trust-worthy alarm clocks. Oh, and this could be Carmelo Anthony's last trip to MSG as a Nugget.

The particulars ...

Records:
Denver:
14-8 (4-7 on the road)
New York: 15-9 (5-5 at home)
Injuries:
Denver:
Kenyon Martin (knee) and Chris Andersen (back) are both out. Carmelo Anthony (right knee) is day-to-day.
New York: Kelenna Azubuike (left knee surgery) is out.

Opposition's Take: Posting and Toasting

When these two teams met back on November the 16th in Denver, the Knicks looked like the same Knicks we have known in recent years at a disappointing 3-7 and on a five game losing streak. Likewise, the Nuggets were also struggling to put together consecutive winning games at just 5-5 on the young season.

At the Pepsi Center on Nov. 16th we didn't see a lot of defense and the Nuggets went into the fourth quarter up 12-points, 94-82. If that sounds familiar, it should ... Friday night the Nuggets took a 12-point, 98-86, into the fourth quarter against the Raptors. In both of those games, at the Pepsi Center and in Toronto, the Nuggets were unable to maintain their cushy leads and almost let their opponent come all the way back.

Friday night, the Raptors were not able to get Denver's lead under four points. But back on Nov. 16th, the Knicks erased a 16-point deficit from the 11:19 mark of the final period to tie the game just about eight minutes later at the 3:06 mark at 109-109. Again, a 16-point lead evaporated in just eight minutes ... that's practically unthinkable.

The Knicks mounted their comeback thanks to key players Amare Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Landry Fields. Three of those names (Stoudemire, Felton, and Fields) are in their first season with the Knicks and the other two guys (Gallinari, 22 years-old and Chandler, 23) are young enough that they can come into a fresh season completely reinvented.

And reinvented is exactly what the Knicks appear to be right now. After losing to the Nuggets in Denver last month the Knicks have gone on to win five games in a row, drop one at home to Atlanta, and are currently riding another winning streak ... this time a seven-game win streak. Winners of 12 of their last 13, the Knicks most impressive feat has been winning on the road. This season the Knicks are 10-4 away from Madison Square Garden (and a perfect 8-0 on the road since losing in Denver) and just 5-5 at home, but since losing in Denver they are 4-1 at home.

The Knicks inspired play has been sparked by Stoudemire's hot steak. On the current seven game win streak Stoudemire has scored 31-points or better in each game and is averaging 34.4 points and 11.2 rebounds during this streak to add to his 26.1/9.1 season average. Conversely, the Nuggets won their most recent game not because of a particular player, but rather with a team effort without Melo, Kenyon Martin, and Chris Andersen.

The Nuggets defense wasn't a strong point in Toronto, but the ball movement (27 assists), hot shooting (56.6% and 46.2% from downtown), and attacking style was good enough to earn head coach George Karl his 1,000th victory ... in a place where no other coach with 1,000 wins or more has done it: on the road.

Melo has missed the last two Nuggets games with trouble in his right knee. I expect he'll play tomorrow morning and it will be interesting to see how he is received by his hometown crowd. I've already been searching the web for reactions to Melo being in MSG and so far I've read some stuff by Knicks fans saying they'll be cheering for Melo and others who say they wont cheer for him because he's not on their squad.

Whether or not Melo is able to play, the team needs to repeat the success they found in Toronto by attacking the Knicks in the paint. New York is without a dominant shot blocker (Stoudemire will protect the paint, but not a real intimidating defender) and the Nuggets must work to get open looks with good ball movement and not resort to the familiar one-on-one play that plagues this team on the road.

It could be difficult getting the individual players not to gun for theis as Melo will surely want to play well in his hometown, same goes for New Jersey native J.R. Smith, and Al Harrington (another NJ guy) will likely want to play well in front of his former team and their fans. All three guys can have good games, but need to do so within the confines of the game plan.

Players to watch for the Knicks:

  • Rookie Landry Fields pulled down 17 rebounds against the Nuggets in Denver, quite impressive for the 6'7'' kid out of Stanford. Fields is averaging 10.3 and 7.5 rebounds per game this season, but can he continue to prove to be more than a scrappy player? In his last five games he is averaging 8.6 points and 6.4 rebounds.
  • Raymond Felton's former coach Larry Brown had this to say about Felton teaming up with new head coach Mike D'Antoni with the Knicks, "He's died and gone to heaven going from me to Mike." The system that allowed Steve Nash to flourish in Phoenix is doing the same for Felton in New York ... as he's averaging 18.3 points and 8.4 assists this season.
  • Danilo Gallinari has been riding a little hot streak of his own the past three games by shooting 48.2% (14-29) and averaging 17.6 ppg.

Players to watch for the Nuggets:

  • Nene was the focal point of the offense down the stretch for the Nuggets in Toronto as Billups fed him in the post play-after-play against Andrea Bargnani. Since the Nuggets played the Knicks, New York has replaced center Timofey Mozgov in the starting lineup in favor of forward Wilson Chandler ... if the Knicks leave Chandler in the starting lineup then it will be up to Stoudemire to defend Nene and that could be to Denver's benefit if they can get Amare in foul trouble. And if Nene can get to the foul line then we'll be seeing the much improved free throw shooter go to work. On the season Nene is shooting a career-high 79.2% from the charity stripe and even more impressive is that he's getting to the line for a career-high 5.6 free throw attempts per game (and he's finishing And-1 plays better than I've ever seen him do it).
  • The Nuggets role players: Big Al, Gary Forbes, Arron Afflalo, Ty Lawson, J.R. Smith. Those role players scored 70 of Denver's 123 points against the Raptors or 56.9% of the total points. If Melo is unable to go (I have a feeling he'll play in NYC) then this group will have to give Denver another solid effort if they hope to end the Knicks streak and start one of their own.

ntimmons73@yahoo.com
Twitter: Nate_Timmons