By John Carroll | Scouts Inc.
The Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks face each other twice in three days. Sunday’s game between the Bulls and the Knicks should mark the return of last year's MVP Derrick Rose. Rose has been out for the past 12 games and the Bulls have gone 8-4 over that time. To completely understand how deep and talented the Bulls are, you just have to look at what they have done this season without Rose. Rose, who averages 22.0 points per game and dishes 8.0 assists, has missed 22 games this season and the Bulls have won 15 of those games.
The Knicks are 10-3 under coach Mike Woodson, featuring a significantly more efficient offense. New York’s shooting has improved nearly two full points of effective field goal percentage. In addition, the Knicks have had a major increase in their offensive rebounding.
Without Amare Stoudemire in the lineup, the Knicks have gone with a smaller lineup. They are playing with three guards: Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert and Landry Fields. Carmelo Anthony is playing the forward position alongside Tyson Chandler at center. It appears that Melo likes the slower style of offense under Woodson and playing without Jeremy Lin, because he is averaging 27.6 points per game in the past five games.
Rose says he will return Sunday after missing the past 12 games with a groin injury. Bulls guard Rip Hamilton is day-to-day. Stoudemire is out for the Knicks with a back injury and Lin is out with a meniscus tear.
Key Matchup: Knicks SF Carmelo Anthony versus Bulls SF Luol Deng
Anthony has averaged 23.5 points in the two games versus the Bulls this season while grabbing 7.0 rebounds per game. More importantly, Anthony appears to be flourishing under Woodson. In the past five games, he is getting 20 shots per game and scoring 27.6 points per game. He is shooting 50 percent from the field in those five games and getting to the free throw line eight times per game.
Yet Anthony has not gone up against Deng in either game the Knicks played against Chicago this season. Deng was kept out of the two games with a wrist injury. Deng will put pressure on Anthony at both ends of the floor. He will make Anthony work much harder to get quality shots with his length and athleticism. Then, on the offensive end, he will tax Anthony defensively with his ability to run the court, score (15.7 ppg) and shoot from beyond from the 3-point line (38 percent).
Key Mismatch: Rose versus Knicks PG Baron Davis
If Rose returns, he will present numerous problems for the Knicks. He has played in both previous games versus the Knicks and has averaged 32 points per game and 10 assists. Rose should dominate Davis due to his speed and athleticism. Davis will have an impossible time keeping Rose in front of him and out of the paint. The Bulls will run multiple pick-and-rolls and take advantage of Davis defensively. This will put tremendous pressure on Anthony and Tyson Chandler to double-team Rose, opening up open shots for Rose’s teammates. The Knicks need to be aware that if they double Rose to help the overmatched Davis, the Bulls are ranked fourth in the NBA in 3-point shooting at .376.
Key Play: Defense
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has built the Bulls into one of the top defensive teams in the NBA. His team is currently in the top five in the two of the most important defensive categories: points allowed 88.8 (second in the NBA) and field goal percentage defense .428 (fourth in the NBA). In addition, the Bulls are stingy, allowing opponents to score only 38.8 points in the paint, which ranks them eighth in the league.
Since Woodson took over the Knicks, he has made defense a priority and made his players understand the importance of it. Although he was hired to be the team’s defensive coordinator under Mike D'Antoni, no coach can really improve a team defensively in that role. Woodson has dramatically improved the Knicks in the following categories: points allowed (87.8), field goal percentage defense (.420) and 3-point percentage defense (.284). Based on those numbers, the Knicks would rank first in the NBA in points allowed and 3-point defense, while they would be tied for first with the Celtics for field goal percentage defense. The Knicks defend much better one-on-one, in pick-and-rolls and baseline screening action. They all appear to be on the same page and buying into Woodson’s system which has been the major reason they have gone 10-3 without Stoudemire and Lin during much of that time.
Key Stat: Rebounding
The Bulls are the No. 1 team in the NBA in several rebounding categories. They are No. 1 in total rebounds, in total rebounding percentage at 53.7 and offensive rebounds at 13.9 per game. The front line of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Omer Asik and Taj Gibson are active and dominant rebounders. They take care of the defensive glass for Tom Thibodeau while also attacking the offensive glass.
The Bulls dominated the glass in the last matchup between these two teams. The Bulls grabbed 22 offensive rebounds and 34 defensive rebounds. Overall the Bulls outrebounded the Knicks, 56-38. The Knicks will need a big-time effort on the glass from Chandler and Anthony. They must especially lay a body on Noah and Gibson, who combine to average 5.9 offensive rebounds per game. But more importantly, the Knicks will need their perimeter players, such as Davis, Shumpert, Fields and J.R. Smith, to come back and get involved on the glass. They need to gang rebound and help their undermanned big men against the active frontcourt of the Bulls.
Key Deficiency: 3-Point Shooting
The Knicks have a major problem they need to address in the offseason. They do not have enough 3-point shooting to keep opponents honest. To win in the NBA, you must have stars who can create their own shots and then surround them with shooters. The Knicks have two stars in Anthony and Stoudemire who command attention by the opponent’s defense.
The Knicks are lucky they have the NBA's No. 1 3-point shooter in Steve Novak, who is currently shooting .479 behind the arc. But besides Novak, the rest of the Knicks roster is way below average. Davis is shooting .263, Shumpert .310 and Fields .262. Opponents will continue to load up on Anthony and Stoudemire, when he returns to action. Without shooters to create space and driving lanes, Anthony will be facing more and more double-teams and sagging help defenses designed to decrease his scoring efficiency.