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Game Preview: Knicks at Thunder- 12/31/21

The end of 2021.

NBA: New York Knicks at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

One of my NBA group chats has an Oklahoma City Thunder fan in it, and we tend to go at each other with regularity. To their credit, bandwagon Thunder fans do not exist. Nobody decides to root for a small market team, especially one who has choked as bad as OKC. Their fans are die-hard. They tend to be knowledgeable and overly optimistic. And why not? All they have known is a success. Well, until recently, when the franchise finally embraced a full-rebuild and compiled the most extraordinary cache of draft picks in NBA history. Plus, they have one of the best young cores in the NBA and are managed by one of the brightest GMs in the game. What’s not to like? If you find something, be sure to keep said criticism to yourself because these Thunder fans are sensitive. They worship Presti and have excuses for any and every move saved in their Notes app. They think Tre Mann is the next Jamal Crawford and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is Serge Ibaka. Wild, right? To their credit, neither are busts, yet.

So while Thunder fans are some of my favorites in the NBA, they are a sensitive bunch. And such delusional sensitivity can only be cured by one thing — suffering. Let’s hope the Knicks bring the pain.

And they should with Julius Randle out due to Health and Safety protocols. Knicks fans have had all sorts of responses to this news. I tend to lean on the side of remaining respectful and not celebrating a dude getting a dangerous virus. But there is undoubtedly a silver lining. We will finally see what this Knicks team looks like with a free-flowing offense with Randle out. But, most of all, we will see (hopefully) what the starting lineup looks like with Obi Toppin at the four and what kind of offense coach Tom Thibodeau runs without Randle ISOs.

Projected Starters

Here is the Thunder’s latest injury report: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (questionable due to ankle soreness), Kendrich Willaims (questionable due to ankle sprain), Josh Giddey (h&s), Darius Bazley (h&s), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (h&s), Tre Mann (h&s), and Aleksej Pokusevski (h&s).

Ty Jerome - Ty Jerome is a native New Yorker and looks like someone who would be interviewed on @sidetalk after a Knicks double-overtime win. Jerome could get the starting nod again with SGA out last game and questionable for tonight. He posted a team-high 24 points against the Suns and could break out against Kemba Walker’s “defense.” if SGA plays, this becomes the position of interest for the Knicks to contain.

Lu Dort - Lu Dort is a joy to watch. He plays with a passion and integrity Knicks fans haven’t seen from Julius Randle this season. His offensive game is clunky but deceptively adept. Unfortunately, the scoring load will fall on his shoulders tonight due to injuries, and the match-up between him and Barrett will be one to watch. Dort is the best perimeter defender in the NBA and will challenge Barrett as he tries to pull out of a slump.

Aaron Wiggins - As my OKC friend put it, “Aaron Wiggins. Another Presti gem.” Indeed. Preston has a knack for secondary and gems. Wiggins was the 55th pick this year, and along with Earl, has been one of the Thunder’s best contributors. He’s been on a tear lately and will be a tough cover for Fournier. This is precisely the kind of Knicks match-up that will lead to a career-high for Wiggins.

Paul Watson - Paul Watson is a Canadian-American conservation and environmental activist...oh wait, wrong Paul Watson. Apologies, I have no idea who this no-name player is. It appears he is 27-years-old, 6-6, and is on a two-way contract with the Oklahoma City Blue of the NBA G League. This is like scouting for Wayne Selden. Unnecessary.

Isaiah Roby - Isaiah Roby has been solid. He is turning into a dependable big in limited minutes. He’s a little undersized at 6-8 but plays with hustle and enthusiasm, you know, two things the Knicks starters forgot the definition of. He’s knocking down 42% of his threes this season, a career-high in his young tenure. He has potential as a small-ball big off the bench. He should have his hands full with Mitchell Robinson getting morel looks with Randle out due to h&s protocols.

Predictions

This has been the first time predicting the outcome has been fun. No disrespect to Julius Randle getting sick. We all wish him a speedy recovery. But it’s Obi Toppin time. Knicks by double digits, thanks to a solid game by Barrett and Toppin. Knick fans will be smoking on that OKC pack tonight.