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Game Preview: Knicks vs. Wizards-12/23/21

The slumping Wizards visit the possibly-less-slumping Knicks.

Washington Wizards v New York Knicks Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Knicks (14-17) host the Washington Wizards (16-15) on Thursday in their first regular season meeting. The Eastern Conference rivals last met on October 15 in their final preseason tilt, which the Knicks won 115-113 on a Julius Randle buzzer-beater. I wrote a 10,000-word recap with footnotes for that one...overdid it on my first try.

On Tuesday, New York predictably defeated the Detroit Pistons, 105-91. Julius Randle led the Knicks with 22 points while Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier each chipped in 21. Mitchell Robinson got the game ball, however, finishing with 17 points, 14 rebounds, and a +24 in his most dominant performance of the season.

The Wizards beat the Utah Jazz (in Utah, no less) 109-103 on Saturday. Three-time All-Star Bradley Beal dropped 37 points, five rebounds, and seven assists in the game. Point guard Spencer Dinwiddie couldn’t buy a bucket in 25 minutes (0-for-7 from the field, 0-for-3 from deep). After a scorching start, the Wiz are 3-7 in their last 10 games (as is New York).

Will the Knicks dominate the floundering Pixie Dusters? Will Dinwiddie lay another goose egg? I’m rooting especially hard for the latter. Tip off’s at 7:30 PM, witchy warlocks.

PROJECTED STARTERS

First off, after the disappointing news of Derrick Rose’s ankle surgery, surely Kemba will be the starting point guard going forward with Deuce McBride or Immanuel Quickley leading the bench mob when they return from health and safety protocols.

Wiz fans are beginning to grumble about their own big free agent signing, Spencer Dinwiddie. This season, Mr. Crypto has averaged 12 points, five assists, and five rebounds, but only seven points, five boards, and four dishes in his last five games. The Knicks dodged a bullet by not overpaying him last summer. He will meet the Kemba Walker retribution train head on, and the advantage goes to a highly-motivated Mr. Cardiac.

Shooting guard Bradley Beal played like a Super-Max guy in the Utah game. The 28-year old has averaged 23.3 points, six assists, and five boards this season, but his 52% true shooting is in the 25 percentile, and he’s shooting only 28% from deep. He is also not a stellar defender, with a 113 rating.

Beal’s contract has a player-option for next season. By opting for free agency, he could make up to $50 million more because, after 10 years experience, he would qualify for 35% of a salary cap. Q for the comments: Would you back up a Brinks truck for Brad?

Expect Deni Avdija (6’9” 210lbs) to start with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope out (h&s protocols). Deni has flourished of late and was key to the victory over Utah. In the past five games, he has averaged 9.6 points and five rebounds in roughly 24 minutes. (Upticks, all.)

For the Knicks, Evan Fournier (finally healthy, perhaps?) has strung together two consecutive solid performances. Another one tonight would be swell.

Also, welcome back RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin! We missed ye.

Kyle Kuzma has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds this year. The spot-up shooter has been underperforming of late. In seven meetings against the Kuz, Julius Randle has averaged 25 points, eight boards, and four assists. Expect more of the same.

Center Daniel Gafford has averaged nine points, six rebounds, and two blocks. The 6’10” 234-pound Arkansas alum will face off against Mitch, who’s back in the starting line-up with Nerlens Noel out (health and safety protocols).

PREDICTIONS

Neutralizing Washington’s bench players might be the key to this game. Reserve center Montrezl Harrell and feisty point guard Raul Neto often bedevil the Knicks. With the Knicks reserves reduced by COVID and injury, the starters will be required to play big, competitive minutes. Who wins? Feels like a toss-up.

Side note: add Davis Bertrans to the list of guys I’m glad New York passed on. Remember when he was hot stuff coming out of San Antonio? This year, Davis will make $16 million for five points and two rebounds per game. Not bad work if you can get it.

The World’s Most Famous Arena. Thursday. 7:30 PM. Mesmerize ’em, Knicks!