Thunder-Knicks Preview

A series of salary-shedding trades have the New York Knicks in

position to court two star players this summer, while auditioning

another for the next two months. The Oklahoma City Thunder sure are

glad one New York can’t get is Kevin Durant.

The new-look Knicks will have recent acquisition Tracy McGrady

in the starting lineup Saturday night when they face Durant and the

red-hot Thunder at Madison Square Garden.

New York (19-34) has long been reported to be preparing for a

free-agent spending spree this summer with LeBron James, Dwyane

Wade and Chris Bosh expected to headline the list.

The Knicks made it abundantly clear that’s the plan before

Thursday’s trade deadline, making three deals that would leave them

with about $32 million in salary cap space in July. Players such as

James, Wade and Bosh would each make a little more than $16.5

million in the first season of a new contract.

“I think that’s probably what everything the last few years has

been about, getting cap room and setting ourselves up for the

summer and trying to create a better atmosphere,” coach Mike

D’Antoni said. “There’s a lot of things that we want to do, but a

major component is creating as much cap space as we can.”

Proving how much they’re gearing toward a big splash in free

agency, the Knicks got McGrady solely because his bloated contract

expires at the end of the season.

McGrady, meanwhile, will attempt to prove he’s still capable of

being a star after joining New York in a three-team, nine-player

deadline trade with Houston and Sacramento. New York also sent

fan-favorite Nate Robinson to Boston in a five-player deal, a day

after trading Darko Milicic and cash to Minnesota for Brian

Cardinal, who is expected to be released.

McGrady, a two-time scoring champion, played only six games with

the Rockets this season while recovering from microfracture knee

surgery.

“Physically I feel good, but then again I haven’t played in a

year and a half,” McGrady said. “Even the eight minutes I was

playing, you really can’t get a feel of how long I can play. But

yeah, I think I’m ready to go.”

The seven-time All-Star will get his first chance to impress the

Knicks on Saturday, while also attempting to help them avoid their

longest losing streak since a season-high six-game slide from Nov.

4-13.

Their skid reached five Wednesday with a 115-109 loss to

Chicago, getting swept in the home-and-home set by a team they’re

expected to compete with in free agency.

While the Knicks are struggling to remain competitive, Durant

has the Thunder (31-21) in the thick of the playoff race. They’ve

won seven in a row for their longest streak since a nine-game run

from Nov. 5-19, 2004, when the franchise was the Seattle

SuperSonics.

Durant had 25 points and 14 rebounds Tuesday to help Oklahoma

City beat Southwest Division-leading Dallas 99-86.

“We’re on a nice streak right now, but they’re a humble group,”

coach Scott Brooks said.

Durant has averaged 32.1 points and 8.9 boards during the win

streak, and he’s scored at least 25 in 26 consecutive games. That

streak includes a 30-point effort in a 106-88 home win over the

Knicks on Jan. 11 – the Thunder’s fifth victory in the last six

meetings.