Ho-hum. The 7-1 Knicks are playing at the 3-5 New Orleans Hornets tonight. No contest, right? The Knicks have the best winning percentage in the league, while the Hornets are coming off their third consecutive loss.
In the words of Lee Corso, “NOT SO FAST!”
The Hornets have lost by only four to each of their three best opponents in terms of winning percentage – the Spurs, Thunder, and Bucks. Moreover, the Knicks’ last two road games came down to the wire, including their matchup last Tuesday against the 3-7 Magic, which was a two-point game with under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Expect another tight fourth quarter contest that’s ultimately decided by free throws, shooting, and turnovers.
The Hornets own the NBA’s second best defensive free throw factor at 16.6%. In other words, opponents make only one free throw for every six field goal attempts. Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony is perennially among the league leaders in free throws and free throw attempts. He finished last season ninth and eleventh, respectively, in FTs and FTAs and is in the top 15 in both categories so far this season. However, he has failed to get to the line of late. In the Knicks’ two closest games in the fourth quarter – at Orlando and at San Antonio – as well as in their lone loss, Carmelo attempted five or fewer free throws. But over the other five games, he averaged 8.8 foul shots. So to avoid becoming upset victims tonight in New Orleans, Melo and the Knicks must get to the charity stripe.
The Knicks are coming off their lowest effective field goal percentage (a shooting metric adjusting for the fact that three-pointers are worth 1.5 as much as two-point FGs) of the season at 40.6%, while the Hornets shot their season high eFG% at 59.7% in their last game. The Knicks better thwart these trends tonight if they hope to improve to 8-1. In their barn burner at the 3-7 Magic and their loss at the Grizz, the Knicks allowed their opponent to shoot 52.7% and 51.9%, respectively, their two highest opponent eFG% marks through eight games.
Ryan Anderson is one under-the-radar Hornet they’ll have to keep in check. He is 11th in the league in three-point FGs made and is shooting 42.3% (3P%, not eFG%) from downtown in Hornet wins compared to 33.3% in losses.
The Knicks continue to lead the NBA with only 10.6 turnovers per 100 possessions. The Hornets, on the other hand, are 21st in the league with a 14.6% turnover rate. The Knicks must exploit this advantage over the Hornets’ young ball-handlers, especially Greivis Vasquez and rookie Austin Rivers, who turn the ball over about 17.4 and 19.5 times, respectively, per 100 possessions.