A familiar face, Jeremy Lin, returns to MSG on Monday night. More importantly, a winnable game is on deck for the Knicks, who have an NBA-best 10-0 home record.
Tipoff will be at 7:30 p.m. Here is what the Knicks need to do:
1. Dominate with their pick and roll. With Carmelo Anthony being a game-time decision, Raymond Felton/Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler in the two-man game will be the main offensive priority. This month, they've taken the pick and roll to new heights, especially Chandler, who has been averaging 15.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 73.8 percent. Felton has noticed the difference.
"He's learning how to finish in many ways," he said. "He's not only just looking for a lob. He can catch a bounce pass and finish, he can catch the ball in traffic and go up and get and-ones. I think he has a lot of that this year, so he's added a lot to his game. He's really worked this summer, he's really worked at his game. Tyson's been big for us this year, very big."
2. Defend the Rockets' isolations and 3-point looks better. In their first matchup on Nov. 23, in which the Rockets won by putting up a season-high 131 points, they shot 14-for-25 (56.0 percent) from downtown. James Harden, Daequan Cook and former Knick Toney Douglas each had three 3s. Chandler Parsons had four. Harden's playmaking in isolation and off the pick and roll really allowed the Rockets to get open looks. He finished with nine assists, to go along with a team-high 33 points.
The Rockets ran isolations on 12.2 percent of their plays that night -- one of the highest percentages by a Knicks opponent this season -- and they were very efficient, scoring 1.21 points per isolation. What's more critical is how the Knicks defend Harden. Expect more double teams, especially after Kyrie Irving lit up the Garden for a career-high 41 points on Saturday night. After the game, Mike Woodson said, "I didn't make the adjustments. We should've ran Tyson at him more with Kidd to try to get the ball out of (Irivng's) hands."
3. Reduce the Rockets' transition and inside games. On the season, they're averaging a fifth-best 16.8 fast-break points per game. Lin and Harden like to push the ball and look for quick penetration into the lane. Harden, especially, loves to take 3-pointers in transition. The Rockets' starting backcourt also makes plays when they pick up the pace because their teammates run the lanes and are great shooters. That's a credit to their youth, being the youngest team in the league with an average age of 23.9. On the flip side, the Knicks are the oldest at 31.2.
Inside, the Knicks will have to worry about Omer Asik. He gave Chandler and the Knicks fits in the paint the first time they played, as he went off for 18 points and 14 rebounds. While he's about the same height as Chandler, he has 15 pounds on him. He's also skilled. Without Rasheed Wallace (sore left foot) and Marcus Camby, that could present a red flag. Chandler can't get caught up in foul trouble. He needs to be effective throughout the entire game, especially if Anthony doesn't play.
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