New York Knicks: Keys To Defeating The Houston Rockets
Nov 2, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) controls the ball against Houston Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza (1) during the third quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks are desperate for a win on New Year’s Eve. What must they do to improve to 17-16 with a win over James Harden and the Houston Rockets?
The New York Knicks are reeling. Since improving to 14-10 on December 11, the Lakers are 2-6 with three losses by double-digit margins and another three in heartbreaking fashion via poor execution down the stretch.
Now 16-16 with New Year’s Day on the horizon, the Knicks will look to achieve a measure of redemption and avoid falling below .500 entering 2017.
Next on the schedule for New York is a team that’s handled them in both preseason and regular season play in 2016-17: the Houston Rockets. James Harden’s crew has been exceptional overall, but it’s been dominant against the Knicks in specific.
After losing 130-103 to the Rockets in the preseason opener, New York fell 118-99 to Mike D’Antoni’s new team on November 2.
New York needs this victory for a vast number of reasons, but that sense of urgency doesn’t guarantee success. Defeating the Rockets will be a matter of firing on all cylinders and executing in areas in which the Knicks simply haven’t been consistent.
The question is: what must the New York Knicks do in order to defeat the Houston Rockets and avoid falling below .500?
Nov 2, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) drives against New York Knicks point guard Derrick Rose (25) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
5. Avoid Foul Trouble
The first key may be the most impossible task in all of professional basketball: avoiding foul trouble against the Houston Rockets. James Harden leads an offense that’s more than capable of running up the score up without free throws, but has an uncanny ability to draw contact.
If the New York Knicks aren’t careful, they’ll run into the same issues that plagued them during the first regular season meeting with Houston in 2016-17.
The first time around, the Knicks sent the Rockets to the charity stripe for an unforgivable 27 free throw attempts. That may seem like more of an outlier than a common occurrence, but New York is allowing an average of 25.6 free throw attempts per contest.
Foul trouble has destroyed the Knicks’ attempts at developing chemistry in 2016-17, and Houston can continue to make life difficult on New Year’s Eve.
Houston ranks No. 14 in the NBA at 23.8 free throw attempts per game, but that’s a misleading number. Harden is No. 2 in the NBA with 10.1 free throw attempts per game on his own, which is a sign that he can disrupt New York’s entire rhythm.
Keeping Harden and the Rockets off of the free throw line will be the first step in the long path towards victory.
Dec 30, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
4. Carmelo Anthony
The New York Knicks need to run a balanced and team-oriented offensive attack against the Houston Rockets. No one player is going to defeat a team with as many weapons as the Rockets, especially not when James Harden is running the show.
If the Knicks are going to overcome the Rockets, however, they’ll need Carmelo Anthony to be able to match Harden with a star-caliber performance of his own.
Anthony posted 26 points and 13 rebounds against the New Orleans Pelicans, but he did so on 9-of-22 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 shooting from distance. He’ll need to maintain elite production and improve his efficiency in Houston.
Most importantly, Anthony must be equally as effective as a decoy as he is a scorer, which means limiting plays in isolation.
Houston can put points up in a hurry, which New York has already learned in 2016-17. Thus, in order for the Knicks to put up enough of a fight to secure a victory over the Rockets, Anthony will need to know when to shoot and when to defer.
That’s a tedious task for a player who’s surrounded by new faces, but this is the stage of the season at which New York should be showing signs of progress.
Dec 30, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (25) drives past New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
3. Move The Ball
The New York Knicks have been drifting away from team-oriented offense and closer to isolation basketball. That’s a dangerous trend when one considers how much New York plays when it commits to trusting one another on offense.
The question is: which version of the Knicks’ offense will show up when the task of producing arises?
New York is 15-6 when it records at least 20 assists and 1-10 when it fails to reach that plateau. That’s as easy a statistic to interpret as any: the Knicks are a borderline contender when they move the ball and a non-factor when they don’t.
The burden of facilitating will rest squarely on the shoulders of starting point guard Derrick Rose, who had just one assist against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Rose’s focus during the early months of the 2016-17 NBA regular season should be more on his physical progress than his skill set. Having said that, dishing out one assist in 38 minutes of play simply will not cut it.
Rose, Brandon Jennings, Joakim Noah, and the Knicks will need to keep the ball in motion and create as many efficient shots as possible.
Dec 21, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Rockets defeated the Suns 125-111. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
2. Defend The 3-Point Shot
The New York Knicks are nothing if not consistent during road games. By that, of course, I mean to say that the Knicks consistently struggled to defend the 3-point shot during road games—and there’s not much more to blame for that issue than effort.
Against the Houston Rockets, the Knicks will lose by halftime if they fail to respect the 3-point shot as much as they need to.
The Rockets are averaging a league-best 14.9 3-point field goals made per game—1.6 more than any other team in the Association. Houston is also attempting 5.8 3-point field goals more than any other team and ranks No. 5 in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage.
When the Knicks hosted the Rockets in November, the likes of Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, and James Harden helped Houston convert 15 3-point field goals.
Four different members of the Rockets rank in the Top 10 in the NBA in 3-point field goals made. Gordon is No. 2 with 121, Harden is No. 5 with 99, Anderson is No. 7 with 93, and Trevor Ariza is No. 9 with 88.
Considering New York is allowing 9.3 3-point field goals per game on 36.2 percent shooting from distance during road games, the effort will need to increase exponentially.
Dec 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) celebrates after getting an assist to give Harden a triple-double during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
1. Contain James Harden
One could make a compelling case that Houston Rockets superstar James Harden is the current frontrunner for MVP. Whether or not you believe Harden should be ahead of Russell Westbrook or LeBron James for that distinction, it’s clear that he belongs in the conversation.
If the New York Knicks are going to defeat the Rockets, then the defense must be able to contain Harden and prevent him from having another all-time performance.
Harden is currently averaging 27.8 points, 11.8 assists, 7.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 3.0 3-point field goals made per game. He’s doing so on an efficient slash line of .448/.351/.843 and is getting to the free throw line for 10.1 attempts per contest.
For perspective, Harden is on pace to become the first player since Tiny Archibald in 1972-73 to record averages of at least 27.0 points and 11.0 assists per game.
Harden has momentum on his side after torching the Los Angeles Clippers for 30 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and five steals. The last time the Knicks and Rockets played, he was just as dominant with 30 points and 15 assists.
Preventing Harden from having a strong performance may be out of the equation, but New York can prevent him from going off.
Houston isn’t the type of team New York can afford to get into a shootout with. The Knicks must step up on defense in order to win on the road.
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