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The Knicks host both Los Angeles teams this week, but their main focus isn’t Kobe Bryant or even the defending champion Lakers.

The Knicks host both Los Angeles teams this week, but their main focus isn’t Kobe Bryant or even the defending champion Lakers.

Instead, all hands will be on deck tonight to slow down the human tornado known as Blake Griffin. The Clippers’ All-Star figures to give the Knicks all they can handle, and no one knows that better than Timofey Mozgov. The rookie Russian import was on the receiving end of one of Griffin’s most ferocious dunks when the rook went for 44 points and 15 boards in a losing cause in November.

That was about the time that Mozgov went from promising project to a bench-rider who wouldn’t play again regularly until late January. Coach Mike D’Antoni looks at that dunk as the catalyst for the 7-footer’s slump but added he’s improved since getting back into the rotation.
“Timmy has gotten better. I don’t know if that [dunk] put him in a funk or whatever but he’s gotten a lot better,” D’Antoni said before adding caution to tonight’s matchup. “But don’t make this a duel between Timmy and Griffin because that’s not fair to either one of them.”

The Knicks will need more than just Mozgov to slow down a Clippers team that’s amongst the leaders in points in the paint. And even if they do curb Griffin, D’Antoni said they’re more than just a one-man show.

“Timmy will start and he’ll have to do a good job inside. They’re the number one team at points at the rim. We’ll have to watch the lobs but he’ll get a few dunks because he’s spectacular,” D’Antoni said, adding that the gameplan for Griffin is to make him more of a jump shooter. “Having said that, you still have to guard the other guys, too, because he [Griffin] can’t score enough points to beat you alone.”

The Knicks have their own counter for the freakishly athletic Griffin in Amar’e Stoudemire. The nine-year vet was once Griffin, a raw, athletic dunker with no regards for who was defending him. Stoudemire, who can still get off the floor as quickly as anyone in the league, said he sees a lot of Griffin in himself and looks forward to the challenges of a guy he once mentored.

“He’s playing great basketball. He’s applying athleticism with skills and tenacity. He’s a great rebounder,” Stoudemire said. “He’s a better rebounder than I was and am. He gets great positioning. But the athleticism is similar and the way we play is similar…I’m pretty sure I’ll matchup with him. It’s going to be a great matchup and a great challenge for us both.”

A great offensive show, too. Stoudemire is coming off a season-high 41 points and faces a Clippers team that is just 3-17 on the road this season.

“They [Griffin’s dunks] are definitely momentum changers for sure. We’ll try to limit those and make him take tough shots. But again, he’s not the only player playing well on that team,” said Stoudemire. “Baron [Davis] is in shape and playing well. [DeAndre] Jordan is doing a phenomenal job of getting inside position and scoring. They’re a very athletic team. But we’re trying to win. That’s our main priority.”

Danilo Gallinari agreed about the bottom line of winning and was itching to chime in when the topic of Griffin’s dunks came up. Gallo, who scored 31 points in that game -- a 124-115 Knicks win -- wanted to clarify something about that Nov. 20 game.

“I just remember that we won the game. That’s all that I remember,” Gallinari grumbled. “Everyone wants to talk about the dunks but I remember that we won the game. They were great dunks and great moves…[but] I’m sure Tim is going to do a great job. Tim always plays great defense.”

Mozgov said he vividly remembers that game but added he’s a changed player since then.

“Now I’m much more confidence,” Mozgov said. “Now when I play I can feel the game and I’m better at that.”

D’Antoni said he has faith in Mozgov’s athleticism to at least reign in Griffin but added he won’t resort to fouling just for the sake of it, ala the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy.

“I think you have to be very careful about that. I think you should try to out-skill, outplay him, out-hustle, and out-position him,” said D’Antoni. “I don’t like when you start getting into those types of tactics. Now, you have to play physical with him and that’s going to happen but I don’t think you intentionally try to do that with anybody…besides, he dunks so fast I don’t think you can get to him anyway.”

Although Mozgov will get the start and the bulk of the minutes on Griffin, D’Antoni said that “everybody will get a shot at it.” He added that leaving Mozgov on that island isn’t lunacy.

“Timmy is athletic enough [to defend one-on-one]. If anyone is athletic enough it’s him,” D’Antoni endorsed, adding that Mozgov is improving everyday and is just starting to realize his potential. “He can do it. He has skills and ability. I think it’s too early to ask that from him [to be a star] because he’ll have some ups and downs and some development to do but he has the ability to be a very good player. No doubt about it.”

 
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