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Game Preview: Knicks vs. Nuggets- 12/04/21

Gotta stay above the .500 waterline.

New York Knicks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Not to dredge up bad news, but you likely heard that the New York Knicks (11-11) lost to the Chicago Bulls 119-115 on Thursday night. After a gruesome first half, tensions were high:

Those scrappy Knicks outscored Chicago 64-50 in the second half, but a 37-19 first quarter hole was too deep from which to dig out. One night earlier, the Denver Nuggets (10-11) fell to the Orlando Magic 108-103 on Wednesday and were dusted 61-40 after intermission.

Prepare for a clashing of two inconsistent clubs when the Knicks host the Nuggets on Saturday. Buff up your gold tooth and get your goodies ready for this matinee affair. Tip-off’s at 1 PM, goldbrickers.

PROJECTIONS

The Nuggets are trying to cope with the rash of injuries they’ve sustained this season. They now travel to and from games by ambulance, which streamlines things. As for whom you might see on Saturday, prepare for some feisty Facundo Campazzo and Bol Bol action. Maybe a Bol floater, too:

Who you won’t see:

Many teams would essentially forfeit with all those players scratched. But those teams don’t have Nikola Jokić, who can carry a nation on his back, let alone a basketball team.

Last year’s MVP Jokić is a versatile big who will shoot threes if the conditions are right or rush the lane if a more favorable match-up presents. Any regression from his acclaimed 2021 season? Nada, amigo.

Joker’s 65% TS is a career-best, good for the 94 percentile, and he’s also an 89 percentile passer. Not bad for being picked 41st in his draft class and still only 26 years old. The guy’s a 6’11”, 284lb golem, mined from the Earth’s molten core and forged in Serbian winter. (He also has a wicked soda habit.) Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson will take on the big fella—and maybe both at once. Nerlens Noel (knee) and Jericho Sims (illness) are listed as day-to-day.

After being traded from the Magic mid-last-season, Aaron Gordon took a while to adjust in Denver. He’s rocking now, averaging 14.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. Gordon’s switching between small- and power-forward while sharing the court with Jeff Green and Joker.

RJ Barrett remains day-to-day but should return from an unspecified illness to lock horns with El-Gordo. We missed the Maple one against Chicago. If RJ sits again, Immanuel Quickley will likely start in his stead, although I prefer the off-bench chemistry of IQ and human-highlight-reel Obi Toppin.

Monte Morris is a secondary ball-handler normally, but he’s filling in for point guard Jamal Murray (ACL surgery). Monte had averaged 11.9 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.6 rebounds this season. He’s undersized at 6’2”, 183 lbs, and this should be a light workday for Alec Burks.

SG Will Barton is averaging 16 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. He’s shooting 45% from the field, and 2.5 for 6.4 from three for 39%. Evan Fournier has averaged 15.5 points, 3.1 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 11 games versus Barton. Mr. Don’t Google was a defensive dynamo at times against the Bulls on Thursday, finishing with four steals. He should pick Barton’s pocket a few times, too.

PF Jeff Green is averaging 9.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. The 14-year vet is no defensive juggernaut, either, with his 112 rating. Julius Randle has averaged 19.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in 13 games versus Green.

For a glint of gold in the gravel of the Knicks’ recent losses, (against the top conference teams, btw), note how Julius has been unleashed. He’s forsaken the long ball for a more mid-range-to-rim game and has been demonic on defense. Perhaps another benefit of benching Kemba Walker is that it ended any doubt about who is the alpha-Knick in the starting line-up. Jules should pad his stats against Green today.

PREDICTIONS

Eureeka! Denver is short-handed and the prospects are good for New York to hit pay dirt once more. The map to success is direct enough: contain Joker as much as possible, accept that he’ll have his usual payday, and target Morris, Barton, and Green. Easier said than done, I’m sure, but the Knicks will win in another close contest.

Manhattan, NYC. 1 PM. Dugo živeti, Knicks!