Bulls battle struggling Knicks tonight on CSN

Bulls battle struggling Knicks tonight on CSN
December 11, 2013, 7:00 am
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Mark Strotman

The Bulls enter New York coming off the worst loss of the season, scoring 74 points in a loss to the East-worst Milwaukee Bucks last night. The good news is the Knicks have gone just 2-8 at home and are searching for answers in a season that arguably has been the biggest disappointment in the NBA. You can catch all the action tonight on Comcast SportsNet, beginning with Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. CSN is the only place where you can get the hometown call with Neil Funk and Stacey King.

Of all the surprises and disappointments through the NBA's first quarter, none have been bigger than the New York Knicks.

Expected to contend for the Eastern Conference's top spot following a 54-win season a year ago, Mike Woodson's group has been among the worst in the NBA. In fact, its 5-15 record is the third worst mark in the league, behind 5-16 Milwaukee and 4-19 Utah. Tyson Chandler has missed the team's last 15 games, leaving a gaping hole inside for the league's fourth least efficient defense, but the former Defensive Player of the Year's absence can't account for all of the team's struggles. And the struggles have poured over into Madison Square Garden. After going 31-10 last season at home, the Knicks already have lost eight games at The World's Most Famous Arena.

It's difficult to peg exactly where things have gone wrong in New York. JR Smith may be a safe place to begin.

The reigning Sixth Man of the Year was magnificent last season, averaging 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists -- all career-highs -- in 80 games off the bench. Efficiency has never been Smith's trade -- he's a career 42.4 percent shooter on 11.1 attempts -- but the volume shooter was a perfect complement to Anthony on the other wing, and it resulted in the No. 2 seed in the East.

In 2013-14, Smith has struggled mightily. After being suspended the first five games of the season for violating the NBA's anti-drug program, Smith still hasn't regained his rhythm from a year ago and made good on the three-year, $18 million deal the Knicks gave him during the offseason.

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He's shooting a career-worst 34.8 percent from the field -- including an unfathomably bad 36.3 percent on two-point attempts -- while averaging 11.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in more than 30 minutes per game.

He does seem to be rebounding into the second calendar month of the season. Like Joakim Noah, who missed most of the preseason with a groin injury, Smith missing five games meant some rust as he worked into the Knicks rotation that was dealing with other injuries (Chandler, Felton) at the same time. Through nine games Smith was shooting just 32 percent on 13 attempts from the field; since then, Smith is shooting 41 percent from the field on just nine attempts. Again, Smith will never be known for his efficiency -- he has made 50 percent or more of his shots just twice this season -- but the Knicks can't afford to have him shooting at such a pitiful rate.

Smith wasn't around for the Knicks' matchup in Chicago on Halloween, a game in which New York made 9 of 24 3-pointers. In that game Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined for 52 minutes, scoring 17 points on 6-for-19 shooting. Smith should make a difference in this one, and his outside shooting will be the reason why or why not.

All the action is here on Comcast SportsNet, the only place to get the hometown call. Tune in all night and stay after for Bulls Postgame Live, where we get player and coach reaction, game highlights and analysis. You can also stay interactive throughout the game with Bulls Pulse, joining the conversation by using #BullsPulse on Twitter.