Alright, so the Knicks are still on cloud 9 after their really nice win against the Spurs on Sunday. They had a couple of days off after that game to recover from a less-than-triumphant home stand, and are looking to maybe enter the All-Star break on a winning streak.
They play the Thunder, who still employ Russell Westbrook.
Now, that might not be the ultimate kiss of death that it once was, but so far, in the post-KD era, they’re 0-1. The two teams met at the end of November in MSG, and despite 30 points from Rose, 21 from KP and 18 from Melo, the Knicks could not beat Westbrook, who had 27 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists that night.
You don’t have to face two MVP candidates when you play OKC anymore, but you’ve still got to deal with one. Not to mention, one who is not very happy these days.
The Thunder have dropped two games in a row, and their triple-double machine had forgettable games both times. He scored 47 points against the Warriors and former teammate Kevin Durant on Saturday, but also turned the ball over a really ugly 11 times. On Monday against the Wizards he scored 17 points, tied for his second lowest scoring performance of the season.
We’re gonna go out on a limb and say Russ is a candidate to absolutely go off tonight.
The Thunder, at 31-25, are the current 7th seed in the West. To compare, the 7th seed in the East, right now, is Chicago. 27-29 — the same Chicago team that lost to the Knicks twice. The two conferences are so, so different.
Enes Kanter, who scored 27 points, had 10 rebounds and 3 blocks from off the bench in their first meeting, is still injured so we’re going to see a steady dose of Steven Adams tonight. The good news there is that Steven Adams isn’t very good and OKC doesn’t really have a ton of other good players. They've got Russ, though, and when he’s playing out of his mind he can absolutely carry a team.
For the Knicks to beat OKC, they’ve got to make sure he doesn’t go off, or hope that he’s having another cold night, as he did Monday in Washington. It would be sad, because Westbrook at his best is so fun to watch, but the Knicks need some wins.
When Westbrook is at his best, he’s hitting just about every shot he takes and he’s almost single-handedly out rebounding the opponent’s front court. KP, Willy, KOQ are going to have to make sure to remember their fundies and box out tonight.
Surprisingly, we’ve got nothing new to report here!
- We fully expect to see Willy start again at the 5, and we expect to see Kyle O’Quinn get some run and hopefully provide the sort of quality minutes he did against the Spurs.
- Lance Thomas should also get some minutes, which is good. We like Lance, and the Knicks are a different team defensively with (a healthy) Lance on the floor. Look for Lance to draw the assignment of guarding Westbrook when he comes off the bench. He might be capable of at least slowing Russ down...we think.
- Kristaps Porzingis is going to play, and hopefully continue his streak of good games heading into the All-Star break. He started looking like himself again last week against the Clippers, and he completely looked like himself against the Spurs.
- If KP and Melo can get hot, if Derrick Rose can have a good game and if Willy can be as steady as he has been lately, the Knicks stand a fairly reasonable chance of winning this game. There really isn’t a member of the Thunder not named Russell Westbrook who can single-handedly beat you. Again, they’ve got to hope he has an off night, which is rare, or they’ll have to defend him, which is so hard to do.
This is the last game before we get some time off from the campy television drama that is the New York Knickerbockers. OKC isn't an elite club, but they've got one unstoppable force in their employ. I think the Knicks should hang in this one — especially if they can keep Russ in check — but if things go awry, it’s probably because they failed to keep him in check. Should that be the case, I implore you all to turn off your Knicks sensibilities and marvel at the brilliance of the Brodie.