NBA basketball on Christmas Day in the world’s most famous arena. What could be better?
The Oklahoma City Thunder have won their nine of 10, hold the best record in the NBA(22-5), and are red-hot.
The New York Knicks, well, not so much. New York has had a disappointing start to the season, holding the fifth worst record (9-18) in the weak Eastern Conference. The Knicks have been playing without All-Star Center, Tyson Chandler who has been sidelined with a broken left fibula. However, Chandler made his return last Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, and gave the Knicks nine points and nine rebounds in 37 minutes.
Oklahoma City is coming off their first loss at home all season, to the Toronto Raptors, stopping a nine game win streak streak for the Thunder. New York is coming off of a 103-98 win in Orlando against the Magic.
Here are three things to watch come Christmas Day:
KD vs. Melo: The two best scorers in the league head-to-head. Durant is averaging 28.1 points a game, and Anthony is right behind him at 26.5 points a game. Both players are playing great basketball of late, and the two will most likely be matched up with each other on both ends. KD spoke about playing Anthony by saying, “Carmelo Anthony is a guy I looked up to. He went to Oak Hill, I went to Oak Hill. He is someone I always wanted to be like.” Melo said this about the game: “Christmas Day. It’s just an honor and blessing to play on that day. Just going to do our justice by playing the game right and having fun.” Anthony sprained his ankle in the third quarter against the Magic last night, but is supposed to play against Oklahoma City.
The boards: The Knicks rank 29th in the league in rebounds a game (38.6). Oklahoma City is first in the league in rebounds at 47.4 a game. That could be difference and this one. Serge Ibaka is playing at an All-Star level as he recorded his 13th double-double of the season against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night. The Knicks aren’t very deep at the big man position, with only Chandler, Bargnani, and Stoudemire. Meanwhile, the Thunder have a little more depth in that area, with Perkins, Collison, Ibaka, and Adams. Look for the rebounding differential to be a critical factor in this matchup.
Guard play: The clear mismatch heading into this game is with Russell Westbrook. Knicks Guard Raymond Felton has been out with a left hamstring injury, but did play Monday night against the Orlando Magic. Westbrook will be matched up with Beno Udrih, which may present an issue for the Knicks. In his last 10 games, Reggie Jackson is averaging 14.2 points a game which has been crucial for Oklahoma City. New York will need a big game from Felton, Udrih, Tim Hardaway Jr., J.R. Smith and Toure Murry.
Melo talked about playing on such a big day saying, “Growing up you always say ‘damn I wanna play in the Garden on Christmas Day’. It don’t get better than that. So you gotta come ready.”
And Melo is right. The Knicks will have to come ready to play in order to beat the red-hot Thunder.
I’ll be in the building for the matchup, and it should be a good one. Thunder and Knicks, 2:30 p.m. EST on ABC.