Opening Tip: Stymieing Suns no easy task

Friday's game against the Phoenix Suns is pivotal for the New York Knicks' playoff chances.

A win moves the Knicks within one game of the Hawks in the race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

A loss leaves them two games back of the Hawks with nine to play.

In order to walk out of the desert with a win, the Knicks will probably have to do something they haven't had much success with this season: stop the opposing team's backcourt players.

Knicks point guards have been outscored by 8.9 points per 48 minutes this season, according to 82games.com data. Shooting guards have been outscored by 6.9 points per 48 minutes.

With that in mind, the Knicks will have their hands full on Friday against Phoenix's backcourt.

Goran Dragic is leading the Suns in points per game (20.4) and Eric Bledsoe is second (17.6). They also rank Nos. 1 and 2 in assists.

Raymond Felton has struggled to defend opposing point guards, particularly on the screen and roll, all season. Tim Hardaway Jr. is still working to improve as a defender, particularly in stifling penetration.

So the Knicks will need to lean on Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to help stem Bledsoe and Dragic. Shumpert has been criticized for being overaggressive at times on the perimeter, but the numbers indicate that his impact has been a net positive this season.

The Knicks are being outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions when Shumpert is on the bench. When Shumpert is on the floor, the Knicks are outscoring opponents by 2.2 points per 100 possessions.

One thing to keep an eye on Friday night: Will Mike Woodson turn to Shumpert, who is currently coming off the bench, late in a close game to help defend the perimeter? Will he ask the third-year guard to defend Bledsoe or Dragic?

Up now: We take a look at the schedule ahead for the Knicks here.

What’s next: The Knicks will face the Suns in Phoenix on Friday.

Question: What can Mike Woodson do to slow down Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe on Friday night?

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