The Knicks got right, momentarily, in Tuesday's blowout victory over the Detroit Pistons. It was New York's most efficient offensive game of the season, but many remain rightly skeptical given the quality of the opponent. On Thursday, New York won't have that same benefit, as they begin a grueling and crucial three-games-in-three-nights stretch when they host the Chicago Bulls, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference. The back-to-back-to-back includes a trip to Boston on Friday and a home date with New Jersey on Saturday, but the Knicks certainly aren't in any position to look past Chicago.
Derrick Rose is following up his MVP season with another stellar campaign so far. One of the game's truly elite players at the ripe young age of 23, Rose leads the Bulls in scoring (23 points per game) and assists (7 per). However, the Bulls come into the game on a bit of a slide themselves. They've lost three out of their past five games, and fell to 18-6 on Wednesday in Philadelphia in a 16-point defeat. Still, they boast one of the league's strongest starting fives (Luol Deng is expected back from injury after missing the past six games) and in the second year of coach Tom Thibodeau's reign remain a stout defensive side. They rank third in the league in opponent's points per game, allowing just 87.9 nightly, and are fourth-best in defensive rating (97.7 points per 100 possessions, per basketball-reference.com).
Coming into this season, the Knicks were feared to be a struggling defense and a potent offense, but the opposite has rang true. By defensive rating, the Knicks rank 9th so far this season -- allowing 100.1 points per 100 possessions, and are in the middle of the pack when it comes to points allowed per game. The Knicks have played some poor offensive teams recently, and Rose is one of the toughest players in the league to impede, but there's no doubt that the Knicks' defense -- while not eye-opening -- is a bit underrated. The Bulls will provide a stern test and give New York's defense a good point of reference as to where it is exactly as a unit.
The offensive focus will again fall on the able hands of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire who are both looking to shake off their early season shooting slumps. Anthony certainly played his most efficient offensive game of the season on Tuesday against Detroit, but Stoudemire continues to struggle from the field. He hasn't gotten in any sort of rhythm all year, and Thursday would definitely be a great place to start. The Knicks would also love to get similar shooting production fro Landry Fields, whose 16 first half points and long-range shooting on Tuesday helped the Knicks break the game open early.
Thursday begins a crucial stretch for the Knicks, one that could truly turn around their season. If they were to somehow win all three of these games -- a very daunting task -- the mood around the team would improve ten-fold. The Bulls are the toughest road block in that dream scenario, and it comes right off the bat.