The last time the Bobcats played the Knicks in Charlotte, at the end of December, New York blitzed the Cats in the first quarter, jumping out to a 36-25 lead, and then held on for a 93-89 victory. One play stands out from the rest in my memory: Nate Robinson stealing an inbound pass off a made basket and missing the layup, but Duhon got a three on the possession anyway.
Tonight, it's not the same Knicks team invading the Cable Box, but it's still Mike D'Antoni's team, so we're in for a wholly different basketball experience than we usually see. Larry Hughes is the biggest change, replacing Quentin Richardson in the starting lineup. We've seen Hughes's act before, with Chicago, and it's not a good one. At this point in his career, his primary on court virtue is being able to play either swingman or fake it for a while at point guard. However, his primary virtue, period, is his contract, which expires in the fabled Summer of 2010.
Chris Wilcox is also now a Knick, but he's been used selectively as bench muscle instead of the starting-minutes finisher alongside David Lee that I and others speculated he'd be when he was traded. Really, it's numbers. Are you going to bench Wilson Chandler in favor of Wilcox? Al Harrington? Only Lee serves the same purpose, so I should've realized a guy like Wilcox who's undersized for a center but is built like a fire hydrant wouldn't be used alongside Lee.
Something I'm sure has been mentioned, and which we Bobcats fans should be able to appreciate, is Jared Jeffries's rennaissance. His results appear essentially unchanged, except that he's actually getting fewer rebounds, despite being classified as a center for the first time in his career. Why is it particularly noteworthy for us? Because the same thing happened before under D'Antoni, only it was Boris Diaw who was drafted as a very tall guard/forward combo and then found a calling as an unconventional big under this special coach. Jeffries has never been as good as Diaw was and is, but it's yet another example of resurrecting a player's career by looking at him through the prism of possibility instead of limitations.
With the win last night over Philadelphia, the Bobcats have cleared one of the major obstacles keeping them from the playoffs. Tonight, while the Knicks are no longer keeping hope alive for a playoff berth, they'll provide a challenge simply because they play unconventionally. Of course, they've lost enough games that it should be clear by now they're beatable, but it will take a disciplined performance from the Cats.
I don't usually offer keys to the game because the keys are usually the same and amount to "don't turn it over", "only take good shots", and "score more points than they do", but this time, there's a clear piece of turf the Bobcats have to own. At point guard, Chris Duhon and Nate Robinson provide extremely different puzzles for Felton and Augustin to figure out, on both ends of the floor. If Charlotte somehow reduces the game to a battle of talent between opposing players instead of a battle of strategies between coaches, the point guard position will be the only matchup where the Knicks will have a decided advantage.
Make the Knicks play more half court than they want to play, and figure out how to nullify Nate Robinson's offense and get around Chris Duhon's defense. And you wonder why NBA coaches work 15 hours a day.