The 26-8 Spurs enter the Garden on their ninth back-to-back of the season. How have they done previously? Pretty well, as they've lost the second game only three times, averaging a third-best 106.0 points per game. When the Knicks upset the Spurs in San Antonio back on Nov. 15, they were riding a five-game winning streak. Now, things have shifted into lower gear for the blue and orange through their recent injuries and lack of defensive effort.
For the Knicks, who are 3-5 in their past eight games, to get back to their winning ways, here are three things they need to do on Thursday night, starting at 7:30 p.m.:
1. Start strong defensively. As Mike Woodson pointed out after Wednesday's practice, out of the Knicks' 10 losses this season, they lost the first quarter in eight of those games. The Knicks need to especially button up their perimeter rotations, force the Spurs to shoot contested outside shots, control the defensive glass and push the ball. They also need to set the tempo early on and get some quick scoring opportunities -- such as Carmelo Anthony's typical 3-pointers in transition -- to gain confidence against the second-best team in the NBA.
2. Drive and kick much better. As I mentioned in the "Opening Tip" this morning, the Knicks' ball movement has taken a backseat because of their inefficiencies at point guard. Raymond Felton's absence has had a big hand in that. The three previous loses in the second game of the Spurs' back-to-backs came against the Heat, Trail Blazers and Nuggets -- three dynamic drive-and-kick teams especially because of their main floor generals: LeBron James, Damian Lillard and Ty Lawson, respectively.
The Knicks are definitely going to need a whole lot more out of Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni, who combined for only two points and six assists in their loss to the Blazers on Tuesday night. They have to continue to spread the floor and then get the ball better to shooters in the corners. During their eight-game slide, they have not found their touch from 3-point range at all, shooting 32.2 percent. On the flip side, the Spurs have shot 47.5 percent from downtown during their recent seven-game winning streak.
3. Throw halfcourt traps at Tony Parker. That was one of the main ways the Thunder beat the Spurs on Dec. 17, when Parker only finished with 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Of course, the Knicks don't have an explosive point guard like Russell Westbrook, but they do have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Tyson Chandler. Unfortunately, he was not himself against Portland, dealing with a sprained right ankle. Tonight, his health will be especially important helping to contain the Spurs' pick-and-roll game between Parker and Tim Duncan -- one of the best in the league. Together, along with Manu Ginobili, they fuel their team's superb 3-point shooting.
You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.