The hottest team in the NBA? The New York Knicks. Many believed New York would improve this season, but no one expected an undefeated mark after five games.
The Knicks are 5-0 to start the season for the third time in team history. The last time was the 1993-94 season when they made the NBA Finals. Before that was 1969-70, when they captured their first championship.
Lofty history aside, New York began the season by pounding the defending champion Miami Heat, and face perhaps their biggest test thus far in the San Antonio Spurs Thursday night at the AT&T Center.
The Spurs stand atop the Western Conference with a 7-1 record, and dropped the revamped Los Angeles Lakers 84-82 Tuesday.
Tim Duncan is having a resurgent year, but head coach Gregg Popovich has also relied on second-year forward Kawhi Leonard.
San Antonio acquired Leonard from the Indiana Pacers in a draft day trade last year, and the San Diego State product is already one of the the team’s best defenders and offensive rebounders.
In the win over the Lakers, Leonard draped superstar Kobe Bryant on the final possession, forcing power forward Pau Gasol to heave a last second 3-pointer that clanked off the rim for a Spurs victory.
Leonard leads the Spurs in steals with two per contest, and nets 9.9 points per game.
New York is second in points scored, but the main factors to the Knicks early success have been 3-point shooting and defense, with both coming from an unlikely source in guard J.R. Smith.
After signing on for two more years at a bargain basement discount this summer, Smith has improved across the board in points and assists, and head coach Mike Woodson even has Smith hustling on the defensive end.
Always seen as an exceptional talent, Smith is now “getting it”. He’s averaging 18.2 points and 3.2 assists with over two steals, and leads the league with a blistering 72 percent from beyond the arc.
Smith and the NBA’s top scorer in forward Carmelo Anthony guided the Knicks to their 99-89 win over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday.
After trailing 53-49 at halftime, New York settled in and held the Magic to just 36 second half points and forced 20 Orlando turnovers.
The game tips-off at 8:30 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast by MSG Network if you are in the New York area, or on Fox Sports Southwest if you are near San Antonio. You can also watch online by purchasing NBA League Pass Broadband here.
Betting Odds: San Antonio is favored by 5 points.
Over/Under: 195 points
Prediction: The Spurs are one of the most balanced teams in the league, and have won together for more than a decade, giving them a huge advantage over the Knicks. New York will need Smith and point guard Raymond Felton to overwhelm the Spurs backcourt, and Tyson Chandler will have to neutralize Duncan. Look for the Knicks to pull out a close victory.
Predicted Score: New York 90, San Antonio 87