Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The last time the Knicks played the Chicago Bulls, Mike D’Antoni was their head coach and Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire both started.
Now, nearly a month after that March 12 Bulls’ victory in Chicago, D’Antoni is gone permanently and Lin and Stoudemire are injured and out for the foreseeable future.
Still, the Knicks are 10-3 under interim coach Mike Woodson entering Sunday’s Easter Day tilt against the Bulls at Madison Square Garden and anxious for the rematch.
If the playoffs started today, the two teams would tangle in the first round, with the Bulls as the No. 1 seed and the Knicks at No. 8.
“[Sunday] we want this game and we want it bad,” Carmelo Anthony said following Knicks practice Saturday.
The teams play each other twice in the span of three days, with the Knicks traveling to Chicago Tuesday before another critical game at Milwaukee Wednesday.
“[Sunday] is definitely going to be approached like a playoff game,” Anthony said. “We go out there play them Tuesday so it will be a playoff-mentality game. Right now if we started today that’s who would we would matchup with so we gotta approach it like that.
“[Sunday] is a big game for us. I’m pretty sure they’re thinking the same thing.”
A defiant Derrick Rose says he will play Sunday despite head coach Tom Thibodeau maintaining he is a game-time decision. Rose has missed the last 12 games with a groin injury.
“It’s really not up to him. It’s up to me,” Rose told the Chicago Sun Times. “If I’m feeling good I’m going to play. If I feel I need some more days I’ll take some more days. More than likely, I’ll be out there.”
Anthony said he’s been impressed with how the Bulls have played in Rose’s absence. They are 8-4 since he went down.
“They got guys that stepped up,” Anthony said. “[C.J.] Watson, [John] Lucas at the point guard, them guys stepped up big-time in replacing Derrick Rose. And Chicago’s a great team.”
Since the teams last tangled on March 12, a 104-99 Bulls’ win, the Knicks have established a new identity under Woodson, a more defensive-oriented identity.
“We’re defending much better and offensively we’re making shots,” Woodson said. “We’re averaging right at 100 point per game — 98 99 points per game. And our defense is holding opposing teams to 88, 87 points per game. So anytime you do that you’re going to put yourself in position to win a lot of games. So that’s how we’ve been playing and I expect us to continue to play that way if we’re going to make the playoffs.”
Anthony, who essentially said he had stopped playing his hardest under D’Antoni, doesn’t hide his appreciation for Woodson.
“He’s been great, the way he’s been able to get through to the guys on the team, his communication with the guys on the team, holding everybody accountable, responsible out there on the court,” Anthony said.
“It’s been great. For me and the other guys on the team, we’ve been responding well to what he’s been doing.
With 11 games to play, the Knicks are 1 1/2 games behind Philadelphia for the No. 7 seed and one game ahead of the Bucks for No. 8
Their remaining schedule includes two games with the Bulls and one apiece with Milwaukee, Miami, Boston, Atlanta and the L.A. Clippers. All of them, save Milwaukee, are playoff teams.
“Hey, we’ve got to win,” Woodson said. “We’ve beaten some good teams this year. Beating Orlando the other night wasn’t no easy task. It makes me think that our guys are committed to wining.
“So we’re going to have to beat a good Chiacgo team that’s considered the best team in the East. No, it’s not going to be easy but if we take it one game at a time and guys are committed, hopefully the resutlts will be just like they were in Orlando. Especcially at home when we’re playing in front of our fans.”
**Woodson said Bill Walker (sore left elbow) would play Sunday.
**As for Jared Jeffries (sore knee), Woodson said he would likely play, adding the team would “assess it probably first thing in the morning when we get to the arena to see how he is.”
**Center Tyson Chandler says he doesn’t have a fractured wrist and won’t need surgery: “It’s hurt. I’ve been banged up throughout the season, but it’s all right. I don’t have a fracture. I don’t know for sure what it is. It’s too complicated basically and if I try to explain it, I’m not a doctor.”
**Woodson said he had no timetable on whether either Stoudemire (bulging disk) or Lin (knee surgery) would return. On Stoudemire, Woodson said: “You’ve got to ask the medical people that but the bottom line is he’s not going to be in uniform for a while. How long it’s going to be? I don’t know. I’m sure if he feels like he’s ready to play, if he’s ready, he’ll let us know that, based on the therapy work that he continues to go though. At this point, I’m not counting on Amare right now to come back. I’m dealing with the guys that we have heathy that are in uniform. that’s all we have at this point.”
**On when Lin might return, Woodson said: “He’s out a while. He’s going to be out six t0 – I don’t know how many weeks — so I’m not really counting on him to return right now. I’ve got to deal with the guys that are in uniform. So Baron [Davis] and Rook [Iman Shumpert] and Toney Douglas and [Mike] Bibby will be playing our point guard the rest of the way .”
**Woodson said he hasn’t spoken to former Indiana teammate Isiah Thomas since he was fired Friday by FIU. “I heard about it over the news and haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet,” Woodson said.
**Louisville guard Chris Smith, brother of Knicks guard J.R. Smith, worked out at the Knicks facility and told SNY.tv he would likely sign with an agent with a week or so.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.