Atlanta overcame a dominant performance by Zach Randolph to beat New York in the teams’ last meeting at Philips Arena. On Sunday, though, the Hawks may not have to worry about trying to keep the Knicks’ top big man in check.
The Hawks, trying to hold on to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, look to take advantage of a matchup against a Knicks team that may have to make do without Randolph.
Atlanta has won six of eight, including a 106-103 win over Chicago on Friday night, to remain ahead of New Jersey for the eighth playoff spot in the East. The Hawks, trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999, have an excellent opportunity to help their cause with another win over the lowly Knicks (20-52).
Atlanta is 2-0 against New York this season, beating the Knicks 99-93 at home on Feb. 29 despite a 29-point, 17-rebound effort from Randolph. The veteran forward, who averages 17.5 points and a team-best 10.3 rebounds, is questionable for Sunday after missing New York’s 103-95 loss to Toronto on Friday night due to flu-like symptoms.
“Right now we’re just trying to keep him away from all the other guys,” Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said.
Randolph would be replaced in the starting lineup by David Lee, who is averaging 10.5 points and 8.8 rebounds.
New York’s frontcourt will have to contend with Hawks forward Josh Smith, who had 10 rebounds and four blocks versus the Bulls. But Smith, averaging 17.1 points a contest, was held to 12 on 3-of-10 shooting.
Mike Bibby scored 30 points to help Atlanta hold on after nearly blowing two huge leads. Bibby scored 18 in the first half and finished 6-of-8 from 3-point range, showing he was fully recovered from an injured left thumb that forced him to leave a win over Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
“The leadership of a guy like Mike Bibby is big,” said Hawks leading scorer Joe Johnson, Bibby’s backcourt mate. “Since he’s been here, he’s taken control of the game.”
Johnson has posted averages of 29.2 points, 7.6 assists and 6.6 rebounds in his last five games against the Knicks. Bibby, though, is averaging just 7.5 points while shooting 27.3 percent (6-for-22) from the field in his last two games against New York.
Knicks leading scorer Jamal Crawford, meanwhile, had 26 points against the Raptors, but New York was officially eliminated from playoff contention for the sixth time in seven years.
“It’s disappointing,” Thomas said. “We definitely had high hopes coming into the season. I always thought we would be a playoff team this year. I’m disappointed that we’re not.”
But Crawford continues to shine, averaging 25.3 points while shooting 9-for-18 from beyond the arc in his last three contests. Crawford’s performance versus Toronto, though, didn’t help the Knicks avoid shooting below 40 percent from the field for the fourth time in their last nine games.
New York has gone 7-for-32 (21.9 percent) from 3-point range against Atlanta this season. These teams will conclude their season series on April 11 at Madison Square Garden.