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Defensive Knicks tracking Toronto, playoff berth

Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said he doesn’t believe in ‘statementgames,’ but he did acknowledge their first tilt with the TorontoRaptors on Friday is bigger than most. <br /><p />

Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said he doesn’t believe in ‘statement games,’ but he did acknowledge their first tilt with the Toronto Raptors on Friday is bigger than most.

“You can’t have a statement game every game,” D’Antoni said Thursday.

Wednesday night’s 93-922 win over the Sixers put the Knicks (16-22) a game behind the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls and just 21/2 games behind sixth-seeded Toronto.

“It’s not the end of the world one way or the other, but we need to win a certain number of games to get where we want to get,” D’Antoni said. “If we win, it’s a two-game swing, so it’s an important game from that standpoint.”

Perhaps bigger than a win itself is the psychological gain it will give his team, which is usually jockeying for draft lottery position at this point in the season.

“We’re winning games from the defensive end and that’s something we couldn’t do last year,” D’Antoni said. “[Toronto] is a very good offensive team with a lot of scorers who can spread the floor. It'll be a great test.”

Chris Bosh leads the Raptors’ physical offense, which ranks fifth at 103.3 per game. The Knicks have won just one game in the past month when giving up at least 100 points.

Point guard Chris Duhon knows how big a game this is in the standings and relishes the opportunity to play a team that is so similar in style.

“It’s a big game for us so the intensity will be pretty high,” Duhon said. “They’re a great outside-shooting team like us. We both have good big men who can score from the outside and a lot of their offense comes from the perimeter. We have to make them shoot shots that are contested.”

Bosh has always played well versus New York – averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds -- so it’s important the Knicks frontline matches his production. D’Antoni took time to marvel at Bosh, who he coached in the 2008 Olympics.

“He’s seven feet tall and can shoot [and he has] a very quick step,” D’Antoni said. “It’s hard to matchup with him and their bigs overall.”

D’Antoni, however, thinks he has the men to matchup with Bosh, specifically forward Jared Jeffries.

“He’s done a pretty good when you put it into context because he guards the whole other team,” D’Antoni said of Jeffries who’s asked to guard anyone from point guard to center. “And anything you get from him on offense is a bonus. He scores, rebounds, and finishes nicely.”

As odd as it may be to hear, these Knicks actually have a desire to focus on the defensive end, which in turns sparks a potent offense that is averaging 101 points per game.

“It gives us confidence because every shot you shoot, it’s not like you have to make it, because we can go down and stop people,” said D’Antoni of a team that is trying to be as balanced defensively, as they are offensively. “The stops, in turn, make it a lot better for us [as an offense].”

NOTES:
-Center Eddy Curry didn’t practice, yesterday, due to swelling in his knee. He may be available tonight, however. “It bothered him before Oklahoma City [Monday night],” said D’Antoni. “His knee just puffed up. He might be able to dress [tonight]. But [at worst] two, three days max [he’ll be out].”

-David Lee also didn’t practice on Thursday due to personal reasons.

-One guy who is anxious to play tonight is Danilo Gallinari. Between the two teams, there will be three Italian players on the floor. The Knicks have Gallinari, obviously, while Toronto has former number-one overall pick Andrea Bargnani and the well-traveled Marco Belinelli.

“It’ll be a special moment and emotional because we know we’re all playing at the highest level of the championship,” said Gallinari. “And it’ll be a test for me [to show his countrymen how much he’s improved since they last saw him].”

-Just 15 years ago, the thought of such an influx of European talent might’ve sounded preposterous but D’Antoni, who was a star in the Italian league in the late 80’s, said he saw this globalization of the game coming: “Yeah, you could see the talent was getting better [in Europe]. After the 1992 Olympics you could see that it was going to get there. Now, you see many [foreign players] here. France, I think, has five or six. We [Italy] have a few. And other countries, too.”

-When asked who the best player was during his time in Italy, D’Antoni quipped, “you mean besides me?” He then added, “[Bob] McAdoo was the best. But there was Spencer Haywood, to George Gervin, to Michael Ray Richardson, to Pooh Richardson, to even a Walter Berry…and then my last year, 1989-90, those were the big signings of Brian Shaw and Danny Ferry. For Rome. We beat them, though,” he beamed