This should be a straightforward victory for New York. But the NBA is an unpredictable place, and teams that expect an easy win are often embarrassed (see: third game, Magic). Be not ensnared by hubris, Knickerbockers!
WHEN LAST THEY MET
On April 18, 2021, the Knicks beat the Pelicans 122-112 in overtime. For the Pels, Zion Williamson showed off, scoring 34 points, nine rebounds, and five assists, all while going -13. Julius Randle logged 33 points, and Derrick Rose added 23. Even with the extra period, the Knicks shot 29 three-pointers. Times change, folks!
WHAT’S BEEN HAPPENING IN NEW ORLEANS?
The Pelicans traded Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe and etceteras to Memphis for C Jonas Valančiūnas. They picked Trey Murphy III 17th in the draft. Lonzo Ball departed for Chicago, so the Pels grabbed PG Devonte’ Graham from Charlotte. They re-signed SF Josh Hart and did some other stuff.
Reportedly, Zion weighs so much now he travels by parade float. (Sources needed.)
With Zion out, PF Brandon Ingram is the Man. He’s averaging 25.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.6 assists in 37 MPG. A first time All-Star last year, BI has taken the team on his back a few times in these early games. He was 2019-20’s Most Improved Player, and will square off against last year’s honoree, Julius Randle. Our mighty southpaw will look to rebound from an inauspicious game in Chicago.
Rookie SF Herb Jones (Alabama) was selected 35th in the draft. He’s averaging 3.6 PPG in 23 MPG. Out of college, his defensive chops got props, but his jumper needs help. Should not be a difficult assignment for RJ Barrett, coming off his best game of the season.
I liked C Valančiūnas when he played for Memphis. His pick-and-roll with Ja Morant was a potent play. He’s big and athletic, but not a great leaper or shooter. Sometimes a real factor, other times a ghost. A good plan would be to get him in foul trouble early. Mitchell Robinson will work up a sweat tussling with the big fella who scored 24 points and 13 rebounds on Friday.
PG Graham is averaging 18 points, three rebounds, and five assists in 18 MPG. He shoots 43% from the field and just under 40% from long. He moves the ball well and has quick hands for steals. Physically, he is an even match with Kemba Walker. Kemba has played two great games in a row. Make it three?
SG Nickeil Alexander-Walker is grooving this season with 15 PPG, 7 REB, and 2 AST in 32 MPG—all career highs. He can pass, shoot, and defend. Nickeil could be a nuisance for Evan Fournier in Saturday’s tilt.
From the bench, rookie Trey Murphy III was among the minutes leaders in the Pels’ loss to Atlanta and played 22 on Friday. Speedy sophomore Kira Lewis, Jr, Josh Hart, Naji Marshall, Jaxson Hayes, and Willy Hernangomez should see action.
These young Pelicans have fight in them, especially Ingram. They battled back in the second half against the Kings, posting 37 points in Q4. After a tough loss, they might be gassed on night two of the back-to-back.
The Knicks will have an advantage at SF and should call Barrett’s number often. Once again, expect their second unit to dominate during their minutes. Look for some big leads, some much smaller leads, and, finally, a New York win by a couple baskets.
Saturday, 7 PM. Losing’s for the birds. Go New York Go.
PS: This video made me simultaneously laugh and feel bad about myself.