Toronto Raptors (24-22)
Madison Square Garden
7:30 PM EST
After too long a time tethered to the sofa, I'll be back in attendance the Garden for this game tonight. Unfortunately, though, I had these tickets in hand before the Knicks announced that they were willing to introduce you to Walt Frazier just for buying tickets. My ticket was actually a Christmas present from my two younger brothers. All three of us are meeting for a few drinks and then heading over. Even without the chance to meet Clyde, I feel this is a big night.
ESPN.com's Accuscore has the Knicks winning this matchup on this night 64% of the time and Vegas has the home team giving 3 points. Frankly, I'm a little surprised by all that. The Raptors recently seem to have found their stride after floundering to start the season, having won 5 out of their last 7. Some have attributed the team's slow start to the uncertainty surrounding free-agent-to-be Chris Bosh. Others say it was the team's difficulty integrating free-agent acquisition Hedo Turkoglu into the offense. The Knicks, on the other hand, are threatening a return to their early-season habit. Which was, of course, to flounder. Mike D'Antoni's squad has dropped 6 of 9 and has not maintained their strong play from December. Half of those recent defeats were blowouts, to boot. One of which came at the hands of these very same Raptors at MSG earlier this month.
When these teams last tangled it was a Friday evening. It was Italian Heritage Night at Madison Square Garden. And to the chagrin of the Knicks' promotions department, we had the wrong Italian. Former No. 1 draft pick Andrea Bargnani torched the Knicks from deep as the Raptors stormed out to 39-20 lead after one quarter. Bargnani was 4 for 4 from deep in the first and finished the game with 24 points and 12 rebounds.
After being down by 24 at the half the Knicks did make a late run, losing 112-104. And for a game that was lopsided early and only briefly tight there was an awful lot of tension on the court. Lee was getting into it with Bargnani and Bosh. Our should-be All-Star even picked up a technical. For whatever reason, these two squads seem to rile each other up more than some of their other Atlantic Division housemates. And, I dig that. It's part of the reason why I feel like tonight is a big night. The Knicks' recent skid has dropped them four games out of the eighth spot in the East and five games behind Toronto, who is currently slotted into the five hole. Thanks to the already-mentioned Raptors' win, Toronto leads the four-game season series 1-0. These two clubs play the last game of the season against one another and it's entirely possible that the season-series tiebreaker could come into play down the road.
The "I Told Ya So" Game:.
David Lee has officially been left off the East roster for the upcoming All-Star Game. And, no, you're not mistaken. Lee does still lead all Eastern Conference centers in points (19.4), minutes (36.8) and assists (3.4). Yes, he is also third in rebounds (11.4). Oh, and you are correct to assert that the addition of a consistent jump shot makes him arguably the most versatile offensive pivot player in the East. But neither the fan voting or the balloting by coaches has put Lee on the All-Star team. Even though he is most certainly having an all-star season. Just ask Yahoo's Kelly Dwyer.
I'm hoping that Lee can deliver a classic "I Told Ya So" performance tonight. Sort of like Eddy Curry did on Jan. 27, 2006, which was the last time the Knicks had a player with an All-Star case. Under Larry Brown, Curry had become the dominant post force that everyone thought he could be. Well, at least on offense. On defense he was a horrorshow. Well, just after Curry found out he wasn't playing in the midwinter classic, he dominated freshly-minted All-Star center Dwight Howard to the tune of 27 points and 10 boards in a three-point Knicks win.