In case you haven't heard, the Washington Wizards just won their first game of the season, an 84-82 nail-biter over the Portland Trail Blazers. So what does the team do for an encore? Head to Madison Square Garden in an attempt to score an upset win over the suddenly-great New York Knicks.
Where, When, and What Channel? Tip-off will be at 7:30 p.m. in New York, and the game can be viewed on Comcast SportsNet.
Why Should I Care? Because the Knicks are the NBA's most fascinating franchise, especially over the last decade. New York's relationship with basketball is similar to Washington's relationship with football. You have a ton of beate-down but die-hard fans who are desperate to cling to any sliver of hope that their once-proud franchise can right the ship and field a winner despite a(n)
moronic incompetent owner. Meanwhile, the teams fielded have been poorly-assembled collections of highly-paid, past-their-prime veterans that have always underperformed. The Knicks don't really have anyone who's analogous to Robert Griffin III, but the team's recent success that has been brought about by the current roster's superior chemistry has allowed fans in Gotham to finally start feeling some optimism.
Are They Particularly Good At Anything? Three-point shooting, although who knows for how long. One of the most striking things about the 2012-13 Knicks is the spike in three-point percentage that key players Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, and J.R. Smith have experienced. None of these guys were even remotely consistent shooters from deep last year, and yet all of them are making more than 40 percent of their threes this season. Hell, even Ronnie Brewer has gotten into the act, having made 12 of his 30 three-point attempts this year. The only problem, at least for the Knicks, is that this performance is in no way shape or form sustainable, since veteran players who aren't already good free-throw and midrange shooters rarely develop elite three-point shots.
Are They Particularly Bad At Anything? Unlike a lot of Mike Woodson and Carmelo Anthony teams, the Knicks are pretty bad at offensive rebounding. This could be a result of the team's smallball lineup that sees Anthony play significant minutes at power forward, taking Anthony from a huge net positive on the glass as a small forward to a slight liability when he plays the four.
What Are the Key Matchups? Chris Singleton is going to have his work cut out for him when he's guarding Carmelo. That said, he's more well-equipped for the task than most players, and could even conceivably give him some problems, especially if he can stay out of foul trouble. How well Washington's big men keep Chandler off the glass and from getting too many easy buckets could also turn the tide of the game.
What's "On The Road With SB Nation?" A new web video series in which opposing SB Nation writers preview Washington Wizards games in quick video. Today's episode features Posting and Toasting's Seth Rosenthal, who was also kind enough to provide us with some additional commentary on what's up with the Knicks.
The Knicks started the season absurdly well, soundly winning their first six games with near-flawless offense and stout defense. Since then, they've lagged a bit. The perfection wasn't going to last, and a combination of general fatigue/decay (the Knicks just finished a very road-heavy stretch and haven't held a full practice since the 14th) and injuries (Jason Kidd is out, Ronnie Brewer is playing on a sore knee and recently dislocated finger) haven't helped. The Knicks looked genuinely horrid in a few losses before winning a very encouraging bounce-back game in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Carmelo Anthony's been pretty consistently excellent to start the year. Tyson Chandler's defense isn't quite DPOY caliber, but it's adequate, and his offensive efficiency remains astounding. Raymond Felton's been on and off, but generally capable of running the offense. Most recently, Pablo Prigioni had a fantastic game off the bench, playing sort of the same extra point guard role Kidd usually plays in the injury-depleted lineup.
If this game were earlier in the week, I'd be genuinely worried that the Knicks might fall to the Wizards, but I think we're all feeling more confident after watching how they collected themselves in Milwaukee. I guess you never know, though.