The New York Knicks will face one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference in the Atlanta Hawks. What must New York do to defeat Atlanta?
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Jan 5, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) and Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) chase down a loose ball in the fourth quarter of their game at Philips Arena. The Knicks won 107-101. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks are approaching a game that could go a long way towards silencing their critics. Currently 5-7 with a 4-2 record at home and a mark of 1-5 on the road, New York can secure a signature win at home.
The next team on the schedule is one of the hottest teams in the NBA: Mike Budenholzer’s 9-3 Atlanta Hawks.
Since losing 95-92 to the Washington Wizards, the Hawks have won six of their past seven games. That includes a 110-106 victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
Following a 119-112 loss to the Wizards, the Knicks will hope to begin a winning streak of their own against Atlanta.
New York has won two of its past three games, but the lone loss was rather devastating. The Knicks came out with no energy and didn’t generate any form of quality offense until the game was out of reach in the fourth quarter.
The question is: how can Jeff Hornacek and the Knicks turn things around and defeat the red-hot Hawks at Madison Square Garden?
Nov 9, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guards Tim Hardaway Jr. (10) and Kyle Korver (26) react at the end of the game against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Bulls 115-107. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
5. Defend The 3-Point Shot
The Washington Wizards entered the clash against the New York Knicks as one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA. Washington proceeded to shoot 15-of-25 from beyond the arc and post 119 points.
That continued what’s been a horrendous season for the Knicks as it pertains to closing out on shooters with any form of a sense of urgency.
The Knicks enter the clash with the Atlanta Hawks at No. 27 in the NBA in opponent 3-point field goal percentage. New York is also allowing more 3-point field goals per game than all but five other teams in 2016-17.
Allowing 9.8 3-point field goals made per game on 37.0 percent shooting is discouraging enough, but it’s even more concerning that Atlanta is next on the schedule.
Atlanta is currently averaging 9.0 3-point field goals made per game—and it hasn’t even found its rhythm. Kyle Korver is an all-time shooter, Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap are more than capable, and the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Muscala, and Dennis Schröder are consistent threats.
The Knicks can’t afford to be lazy with their closeouts against a Hawks team that moves the ball well and spaces the floor.
Oct 4, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) reacts after a play during the second quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
4. Avoid Foul Trouble
When the New York Knicks have stayed out of foul trouble, the results have been impressive on the defensive end of the floor. Unfortunately, the Knicks have been one of the worst teams in the NBA at avoiding unnecessary fouls.
If New York is to stand a chance at defeating the Atlanta Hawks, then it must keep its key players on the floor and out of foul trouble.
The Knicks are sending opponents to the line for 25.3 free throw attempts per game—more than all but seven other teams in the NBA. They’re allowing nearly 20 points per game off of free throws—20 avoidable points per game.
It’d be one thing if the Knicks were playing physical and elite defense, but the Knicks have been the least efficient defensive team in the NBA.
The primary culprits are Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis—the two players whom the Knicks cannot afford to lose. Porzingis is averaging 3.8 fouls per game and Anthony hasn’t been much better at 3.2.
It’s hard to win games when the best players on the roster are consistently finding themselves on the bench and in foul trouble.
Nov 9, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) dunks over Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) and Brooklyn Nets power forward Trevor Booker (35) during the third quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
3. The Rebounding Battle
In the past, teams could overwhelm the Atlanta Hawks by aggressively attacking the boards and exploiting one of the team’s only true weaknesses. Al Horford and Paul Millsap were an outstanding tandem, but struggled to win the battle on the boards.
The Hawks have eliminated that weakness by signing Dwight Howard—one of the most dominant rebounding forces in the NBA.
Howard led the NBA in rebounding in 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-12, and 2012-13. Howard was also No. 2 in rebounding in 2010-11, No. 4 in 2013-14, and No. 3 in 2015-16, and would’ve been No. 7 had he played enough games in 2014-15.
Through 11 games in 2016-17, Howard is averaging 14.4 points, 12.9 rebounds, 4.5 offensive boards, 1.4 assists, 1.7 blocks, and 1.5 steals.
With Howard and Millsap as the interior tandem, the Hawks finally have the personnel to dominate the boards. That much has been proven by Atlanta ranking No. 8 in rebounds per game and No. 5 in rebounding differential.
Joakim Noah is an outstanding rebounder unto himself, but this will be a team effort if the Knicks hope to overcome the Hawks.
Nov 17, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (25) dribbles as Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) defends during the first half at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
2. Ball Movement
The New York Knicks have been borderline unstoppable when they’ve successfully moved the ball on offense. The Knicks have been inefficient and on the wrong side of victory when they’ve failed to create an ideal level of ball movement.
If the Knicks hope to defeat the Atlanta Hawks, then they must run an actual motion offense and not a string of isolation possessions that damage the quality of team play.
New York is currently averaging 21.3 assists per game, but that’s a misleading statistic. The Knicks have exceeded 20 assists in just five games thus far, leaving seven games during which it recorded fewer than 20.
New York is 4-1 when it’s recorded at least 20 assists and 1-6 when it’s failed to—a simple formula for what it needs to do.
The only time the Knicks lost when recording at least 20 assists was against the Washington Wizards. During that game, New York scored 47 of its 112 points in the fourth quarter after entering the final period of play with a 22-point deficit.
In other words: the only time New York’s emphasis on ball movement didn’t result in victory was when it failed to emphasize it for the first three quarters.
Nov 12, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) dribbles the ball as New York Knicks guard Courtney Lee (5) defends during the third quarter in a game at Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Raptors won 118-107. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
1. Hustle On Defense
No matter what else happens against the Atlanta Hawks, the New York Knicks cannot do what they did against the Washington Wizards. Playing careless and effortless defense will result in losses to any caliber of opponent.
When the opponent coming to town happens to be a 9-3 squad that won 108 games between 2014-15 and 2015-16, it’s time to step up.
The Knicks have far too many veterans on the roster for the coaching staff to need to convince them to try. This is a matter of either going all-in and winning or holding back and watching the season slip away.
To show up and defend at a high level against Atlanta would be to send a message to the rest of the NBA: “We can be as good as we want to be.”
The Knicks have the personnel to build a Top 10 defense. Joakim Noah and Kristaps Porzingis should anchor the interior, and the likes of Justin Holiday and Courtney Lee should be the glue along the perimeter.
Instead, the Knicks rank dead last in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions and have no identity on defense.