Preview: San Antonio Spurs at New York Knicks

Coming off two straight road wins against the Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons, the San Antonio Spurs look to make it three straight against the New York Knicks.

The San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

The Spurs enter this game with a record of 41-12, the second best record in the NBA behind the Golden State Warriors. They have a road record of 22-6, and are 7-3 in their last 10 games.

There aren’t many franchises, if any, that can lose their first ballot hall-of-fame power forward to retirement and still manage to start the season 41-12.

The Spurs are coming off a victory Friday night in Detroit, where they took down the Pistons, 103-92. Although the Pistons made a late-run to cut the lead in the fourth quarter, Kawhi Leonard and his teammates were too much down-the-stretch.

Leonard had 32-points on 11-of-22 shooting, along with five assists, six rebounds, and a +/- of 18. He now has 17 30-point games this season, the most in the NBA.

Dewayne Dedmon, who is filling in for Pau Gasol, added 17 points and 17 rebounds in 31 minutes while playing against Andre Drummond. LaMarcus Aldridge added his own 19 points in 32 minutes to go along with his 11 rebounds.

The Knicks, on the other hand, enter this game with a record of 22-33, currently 12th place in the Eastern Conference. They are 13-15 at home, 3-7 in their last 10, and on a four game losing streak.

Essentially, the Knicks are in a full-blown implosion.

They were embarrassed by the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, had Knick legend Charles Oakley get into a scuffle with security and later ejected on Wednesday, and gave up 40 points to Nikola Jokic on Friday.

The Knicks most recent game against the Denver Nuggets was very telling. The Nuggets, who were 23-29 at the time, scored 131 points against the Knicks. On the season, the Nuggets average 110.5 points per game. Against the Knicks, they didn’t score less than 30-points in any of the four quarters.

It is worth noting that the Knicks scored 123 points themselves Friday night. Offensively, if Carmelo Anthony is hitting his shots and the ball continues to move, the Knicks can be lethal.

Knicks second year phenom Kristaps Porzingis has struggled in recent games. Whether it’s a mechanical issue with his jump shot, or he is being mentally drained from all the outside noise of the New York media, Porzingis has hit his “Sophomore Slump.”

Hopefully for the Spurs, the slump continues on Sunday afternoon.

The Matchup

Although Gasol has rejoined the Spurs for the remainder of this road trip, Gregg Popovich announced that he will not return until after the all-star break. Dedmon will get the start in his place.

Starters: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Leonard, Aldridge, Dedmon.

For the Knicks, they will welcome back Lance Thomas to the rotation, while Joakim Noah remains sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Starters: Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Anthony, Porzingis, Kyle O’Quinn.

On the offensive of the ball, the Spurs and the Knicks are pretty evenly matched. The Spurs are 10th in the NBA with 107.0 points per game, and the Knicks are 12th with 106.3 points per game.

The Knicks make 9.2 three-pointers a game, while the Spurs make 9.1.

The Spurs are led by Leonard, who is averaging 25.6 points per game on 48.7% shooting, 5.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 40.0% from beyond the arc and 90.2% from the free throw line.

Leonard is close to having a 50-40-90 season, which is 50% from the field, 40% from three-point range, and 90% from the free throw line.

The only other players in NBA history to accomplish this feat are Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry.

The Knicks are led by Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging 23.3 points per game on 44.1% shooting, 6.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 36.3% from beyond the arc and 82.6% from the free throw line. Despite the subtle jabs by Phil Jackson, Anthony is having a pretty good season.

Defensively, the Spurs and the Knicks are complete opposites. The Spurs are allowing 98.7 points per game, second in the NBA behind the Utah Jazz. The Knicks are allowing 109.4 points per game, 25th in the NBA.  According to TeamRankings, the Spurs are first in the NBA in defensive efficiency, while the Knicks are 24th.

Just in the past week, the Spurs allowed 89 points to the Memphis Grizzlies, 103 to the 76ers, and 92 points to the Pistons. The Knicks allowed 121 to the Lakers, 119 to the Los Angeles Clippers, and 131 to the Nuggets.

Prediction

The matchup to watch will be Anthony vs Leonard.

Leonard, who is arguably the best two-way player in the NBA, will cause fits for Anthony. Anthony’s bread and butter is catching the ball on the wing and taking his opponent one-on-one.

This strategy heavily favors the Spurs because it slows things down, and Leonard’s size and speed will make it incredibly difficult for Anthony. If Anthony has a bad shooting night, the Knicks are in serious trouble.

Defensively, the Knicks almost always switch on everything. Popovich knows this, and will exploit this by having Parker and Aldridge run the pick-and-roll with frequency.

Aldridge will likely draw the matchup with Porzingis, who fouls with the highest frequency in the NBA. If Aldridge can get Porzingis into early foul trouble, the chances of a Knicks win decreases.

On paper, the Spurs should blow the Knicks out of the water. However, what isn’t shown the stat sheet is desperation, and you have to imagine the Knicks are desperate. With trade rumors swirling and Knick fans booing, the Knicks need a win in the worst of ways.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, their effort on the defensive end has been awful.

With defensive efforts like that, the Knicks will not be able to beat an elite team like the Spurs.

Look for Leonard to have his 18th 30-point game of the season.

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Spurs win, and get their 42nd victory of the season.

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