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Knicks 104, Wizards 99: “It’s only been one preseason game but it’s safe to say we’re making the ECF”

A lil preseason aphrodisiac

New York Knicks v Washington Wizards Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

I spent most of the day in disbelief that today was actually the start of the Knicks’ 2019-20 season.

Maybe it was that I had one of those long-but-short summers where I didn’t really do much, but also had to do entirely too much (if you know, you know). Maybe it was that the Knicks got all of their offseason moves done within like the first four days of free agency and put me into an ultra-comfortable Knicks-free bubble that I got too cozy in. Either way, I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to get back into the grind today!

Then the game tipped off. Mitchell Robinson blocked a shot on the first possession. And damn it, I was hooked again.

One thing became abundantly clear after about five minutes of this game: That horrific slog that was last year’s 17-win Knicks? That’s in the rearview now. I’ll be damned, I think the Knicks might actually have a fun team this year.

The first quarter was about what you’d expect from the first game of preseason — a number of errors by both teams as they attempted to shake the rust off; shots not really falling. But the Knicks turned it up at the end of the period, entering the first break with an 11-point lead.

They would extend that to 15 points at the half, thanks in large part to Marcus Morris going completely nuclear.

Morris wound up basically only playing that first half, but more on that in a moment.

The second half was the RJ Barrett show, and what a hell of a show it was! After looking a little tentative in the first half, RJ just started throwing himself at the basket in the second, driving right into contact and seeking transition opportunities. He basically picked right up carrying the scoring load where Morris left things in the first half.

Washington made a nice little fake comeback in the third quarter, which RJ squashed himself with a couple quick buckets after the Wizards had evened the score. The Knicks would never look back from there, despite the Wizards making another fake comeback to end the game. Even in preseason, it’s nice to be on the other side of one of those from time to time. The Knicks won the game 104-99, officially starting the (pre)season 1-0.

How about some notes?

— How bout ’em indeed! Let’s start with the aforementioned Marcus Morris absence in the second half. Justin Anderson was guarding Morris to start the third quarter, and apparently got under his skin either with his words or with his defense:

I learned very quickly from the Twitter reaction that you’re either going to love this move from Mook or hate it. He said that Anderson was talking some junk and that’s what provoked him to make the move there. Whatever the case, I like the overall sentiment that Morris is going for:

— Speaking of liking things, I loved Morris’ play in the first half. He was a model player on both sides of the ball. He still managed a game-high-tying 17 points for the game in just 18 first-half minutes (on 6-12 shooting, 3-4 from three), along with seven rebounds and two assists. He was all over the place. I know the scoring isn’t going to be there every night for him to the extent that it was tonight, but I think it’s definitely safe to say that he, RJ, and Julius Randle are going to be relied on a lot for scoring on a nightly basis.

Julius Randle, by the way, was great. Didn’t actually score that many points (11), but nearly notched a triple-double with seven rebounds and seven assists as well.

What was most noticeable about Randle’s night (and the Knicks’ as a result) was that Randle was trusted to run the fast break in a similar way to how Noah Vonleh was last year at times. Only thing is, Randle is infinitely more talented than Vonleh in almost every way, and it showed. Randle was pushing the pace and finding guys in transition with regularity, including RJ Barrett on what was easily my favorite sequence of the game:

— RJ’s final stat line: 17 points, seven rebounds, three assists on 6-13 shooting. Most of that damage came in the second half, too (14 points to be exact). RJ was trusted with a lot in this one, and he really came through with flying colors after Morris got ejected.

Not necessarily just with the ball in his hands, either! Like the play above showed, he made some cuts in this game. Matter of fact, here’s another cut that came right after that that was just as pretty:

Barrett even splashed some threes, including this lovely look on a kick-out started by Taj Gibson:

All in all, about as good of a game as I could’ve asked for from RJ. Great adjustments in the second half, and he finally started getting comfortable with his shot.

— This frustrated the crap out of me, though:

I really don’t think it would be a good idea to emulate the strategy of running your lotto pick into the ground just because he’s “young” like the Knicks did with Kevin Knox a year ago. Knox looked like a dead man walking in January and February before Fiz finally toned his minutes down some and Knox was able to get his legs back under him.

Frank Ntilikina continued many of the things that we saw from him during the FIBA World Cup for France, making quicker decisions with the ball and not being afraid to eat (or at least try to eat) on offense. The results weren’t quite there (he shot 3-10), but he had a team-high plus-16 (tied with Taj Gibson) and was involved in some pretty familiar looking plays from his time on the French team.

On top of that, Frank’s body is visibly more beefy this year, and he put that to good use.

Friday will be interesting. Elfrid Payton played well enough, but the team just seemed to run better with Frank on the floor by and large. That said, Elfrid played 25 minutes to Frank’s 23. What happens when Dennis Smith Jr. returns on Friday? I guess we’ll see.

Wayne Ellington is a great motion shooter. I tweeted this and someone was like “ooh, how impressive, he shot the ball off a screen”:

My counterpoint to that rude individual is this: When was the last time the Knicks had a guy like that? That can take a three on a dime coming around a screen and you’re actually somewhat certain he’ll make it? I guess you could make a case for Damyean Dotson at his best, but that’s about it.

— One of the best sequences of the game was changed by Washington using the new coach’s challenge rule.

What was initially called a defensive foul was changed to an offensive foul when it was revealed that RJ Barrett had the GALL to have his left arm touching the defender as he finished with his right. This was the first challenge that I’ve seen to this point, and go figure, it was wrong. Can’t wait to sit through a couple of these a night.

— Let’s see, who else...? Kevin Knox! He was good. My favorite part of his game was that he was making cuts and didn’t seem afraid of contact, which makes me think any reservations he had last year about driving to the hoop melted away in the weight room this summer.

The entire second unit really looked good, as a matter of fact. Well, except Allonzo Trier. He sucked big-time today. But everyone else was running the floor and just blitzing the Washington D. The Knicks might not have the most top-heavy roster in the league talent-wise, but they for sure have a roster chock full of actual NBA players this year.

— Taj Gibson was just great. I’m intrigued to see how Bobby Portis looks (on Friday, hopefully), but if he doesn’t look like he can play backup center, I’m perfectly content with letting Taj have those minutes. He finished with 16 points and a team-high nine rebounds off the bench, and even hit two threes, which led to a cool new Knicks celebration:

— Wally was in the booth with Mike Breen to start the season off. Sounded like Clyde should be back Friday though, thank goodness.

That’s all I got for this one! All in all a very fun start to the new season. As commenter King Henry the 2nd said, “It’s only been one preseason game but it’s safe to say we’re making the ECF.” Hell yeah, man. You can’t tell me otherwise until they don’t. Here’s hoping the Knicks can keep this same energy all the way on Friday against Washington again.