The New York Knicks (12-13) zombie-shuffled through a contest in Indiana on Wednesday, losing 122-102. The Knicks were fatigued for this road game, the second of a back-to-back, and the Pacers players were auditioning for new teams. Five minutes in, this was clearly a loss.
On Friday, the Raptors will host the Knicks for their second meeting of the season. The teams last met on November 1. New York finished the first quarter 34-26, then faded fast, letting the Raptors win, 113-104.
That loss brought the Knicks to 5-2 and Toronto to 5-3. Fast-forward eighteen games and these two still have almost identical records. Who will win the battle of two clubs trying to salvage a season before it slips away? Will New York stay ahead of Toronto in the standings or return to the states tied with the Raptors?
Tip-off’s at 7:30 PM. Stay positive, ya hockey pucks.
First off, the Pacers and Raptors canceled practice due to COVID concerns. Indiana coach Rick Carlisle and Raptors President Masai Ujiri have entered health and safety protocols. New York has been traveling on a road trip, just played the Pacers, and is about to face a Toronto team that has COVID concerns, too. It seems inevitable that the Knicks will have cases soon. I dread another “Season Pause.”
Pacers and Raptors have cancelled practices due to Covid-19 safety precautions. Knicks just faced Indiana last night and are supposed to take on Toronto Friday.— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) December 9, 2021
In other news…Toronto coach Nick Nurse would’ve been perfectly cast on Saved by the Bell as a substitute teacher whose wife suffers from a rare condition called flu-pus, and so Zack and the gang hold a talent show that raises $35.49 toward her treatments. (Call me, Hollywood, I have a suitcase full of solid-gold plots.)
The Raptors have no players taller than 6’9”, but Nurse, the 2019-20 Coach of the Year, can scheme around that. One of his core pieces is the $130 million man, Pascal Siakam.
Pascal missed the early season with a shoulder issue and started back slowly but has improved over his last eight games. Great timing for us. The Spectacularly Spinning Siakam has averaged 19.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 13 games this season.
In 10 games versus Julius Randle, the Cameroonian averaged 17 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Conversely, Julius averaged 19 points, nine rebounds, and 3.6 assists against Siakam. A motivated Randle should win tonight’s match-up.
Rookie phenom SF Scottie Barnes is averaging 15.1 points, eight rebounds, and 3.2 assists in 35.6 minutes per game. Scottie’s default setting is happy, and it’s infectious. Whenever he bounces around like a giddy kangaroo, I get a dopamine rush. Tonight, of course, I want sad-Scottie, but otherwise I root for the 20-year old padawan. Against Barnes, RJ Barrett should play a solid game back home in the motherland.
If Precious Achiuwa (shoulder) and Khem Birch (knee) remain out, Chris Boucher will likely start again. He had a solid game against the Wizards recently, but otherwise averages six points and four rebounds. The Knicks can start Kenny Payne against him.
This season, PG Fred VanVleet has averaged 19.8 points, 6.1 assists, and five rebounds. He’s an ironman, leading the league in minutes per game (38.1). Often, I wish the Knicks had tried a little harder to acquire FVV, even if he was pricey. Expect Alec Burks to give his usual pro effort against Steady Freddy.
SG Gary Trent, Jr. is averaging 16.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and two steals. Gary giveth and taketh away, with 2.9 steals (sixth in the league) and 5.6 turnovers (seventh) per game. In November, I was certain Evan Fournier could contain Trent…who scored 26. (I remember my mistakes so you don’t have to.)
Confidence in the New York’s Frenchman is fading fast. A strong defensive showing would help to temper the worry.
And in the Small Favors Department: OG Anunoby is out with a hip issue.
One of two scenarios: The entire Knicks team enjoys a home-cooked meal at the Barrett estate, recharges their batteries with familial love, and returns to the court with unity and strength. Or, the team bus stops at the Taco Bell drive-through, and the starting five fart their way off the floor. I prefer the former fantasy. Knicks win in a squeaker.
Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. 7:30 PM. Bonne chance, Knicks!