NEW YORK — Two of the more defensively-challenged teams will clash at Madison Square Garden on Saturday when the Phoenix Suns meet the New York Knicks.
Phoenix (13-29) ranks 29th in the league, giving up an average of 111.8 points a night. The Knicks (19-25) are 25th, allowing 108.3 points a game.
If New York wants to exploit the Phoenix defense, it may want to consider getting out quickly in transition or launching long distance jumpers. The Suns surrender a league-worst 16.5 fast-break points and are next-to-last in opponent’s 3-point percentage (38.7).
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In a 118-103 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, Phoenix gave up 19 3-pointers.
“They hit a bunch of shots,” Suns center Tyson Chandler said of the Cavs. “They did a great job of spreading the floor and keeping us in the pick-and-roll, confusing us with cutters and things like that.”
New York can relate. While Cleveland was exploiting the Suns’ perimeter defense, the Washington Wizards were doing the same to the Knicks on Thursday. Washington buried 13 3-pointers in their 113-110 win.
New York is allowing teams to average 9.8 made 3-pointers this season and ranks in the bottom eight in forcing turnovers, putting its opponents on the free throw line, and defensive rebounding percentage.
The Knicks have lost 15 of their last 20 games, starting with an overtime loss in Phoenix on Dec. 13. In those 20 games, coach Jeff Hornacek’s team has given up at least 100 points 17 times.
Hornacek, who coached the Suns for nearly three seasons before getting fired last February, tried to shake things up recently by inserting rookies Ron Baker and Mindaugas Kuzminskas into the rotation at guard and forward, respectively.
The Knicks received a lift when star forward Kristaps Porzingis returned Thursday after missing four games with an Achilles injury. He scored 15 points, but grabbed just five rebounds in 29 minutes.
“He’s been moving around pretty well,” Hornacek said. “I think it was just that last step of making sure there was nothing before we put him out there for the minutes.”
Hornacek’s team could be without center Joakim Noah, whose MRI on Thursday revealed a sprained ankle.
The Suns, one of the youngest teams in the league (average age 25.16), are 5-16 on the road in coach Earl Watson’s first full season in the Valley of the Sun. Chandler, once a Knick, has been impressive at age 34. He’s grabbed at least 15 rebounds in the last six games — a franchise record.
Chandler’s 66.9 field goal percentage is the second-highest of his career and good enough for second in the NBA among players who have taken more than two shots per game this season.
“I feel good, and I enjoy playing for Earl (Watson) and I enjoy my young teammates,” Chandler told Arizonasports.com. “I felt great last year, but it’s mentally. You got to want to be out there.
“You got to give yourself something to compete for. I feel healthy now, my mind is clear and so that’s why you see the product of it.”