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Game Preview: Knicks vs Mavericks, 4/2/2021

Are Friday night schedule losses every other Friday now?

New York Knicks v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Did you have a hilarious April Fools’ Day? That’s great. Personally I’ve been stewing since March ended.

The last few games have featured zone defenses either prominently or to great effect, if not both. In the debilitating loss to Minnesota on Wednesday the Timberwolves unzipped and flopped out a big old zone to force a critical turnover with half a minute left. They were daring enough to do it because the guy triggering Knick possessions doesn’t imbue that healthy fear of letting it fly. Of course it’s hurting the Knicks on more than just crunch time possessions.

At some point what you’re getting needs to outweigh what you wish for. Tom Thibodeau is pretty settled on what he wishes were true and the pound of flesh he’s lopping off to put food on the table has come up lighter and lighter, he’s just thumbing his nose at the scale. At this point we have opposing rookies getting jokes off at the Knicks’ expense.

The kid doesn’t even know the name of New York’s starting point guard! The disrespect speaks volumes because the fact of the matter is he’s right not to bother knowing who that guy in the 6 jersey is. Trent Tucker is so disgraced, he’s going back and photoshopping his number out of the history books. For Elfrid to matter he has to play with the passion of a kid who remembers what it’s like to bag groceries because otherwise he might need to learn that the heaviest stuff can’t be simply dropped on top of the produce.

New York Knicks v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Projected Starters

A common refrain is that it doesn’t matter who starts, it’s who finishes or who plays the most minutes. If you think that, please take a good hard look at this cut and drive combination.

Why? Why are you cutting there? Even if it’s a cut designed into the play, it’s a bad read, it’s poorly timed and you didn’t create a passing lane. This is regular for Payton, to pick a bad time to cut, in addition to an asinine spot on the floor to cut to, while never busting to the space, he’s always in a trot. In crunch time the Wolves did a very similar thing, only Rubio cuts to the open space in the corner and it forces RJ Barrett to make the decision on what to take away.

It appeared to be a match up zone and Barrett is low, Elfrid should be high on the weak side. Instead Barrett is one-on-two and he is reluctant to leave the corner shooter because thats just not what the Knicks do.

Elfrid Payton v Luka Doncic

Reggie Bullock v Josh Richardson

RJ Barrett v Dorian Finney-Smith

Julius Randle v Maxi Kleber

Nerlens Noel v Kristaps Porzingis

How I mourn for the days when I didn’t know what to expect beyond knowing it was going to be electrifying. Always. Sometimes that bxzzzt is coming for me and other times it ain’t. These days it just seems to be the repeated, dulling zot.

Of course all this leads me down the next fork in the road and that is where fans start to split on Julius Randle. Clearly battling attrition with his thigh injury and immense workload, how many more games are you capable of dealing with it, where Julius can’t singlehandedly thrust the Knicks into the winner’s circle before you decide that he is worth ripping into as opposed to the Occam’s Razor that should be separating the wheat from the Elf.

Dallas Mavericks v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Keys & Predictions

Lost in it all, Alec Burks has been steadily producing. Averaging 16 points a game in March in about 28 minutes, shooting .397 from deep and soaking up a lot of New York’s more drunken possessions. Whether or not this team takes a sobering look at itself, Burks’ workload has increased as players have shuttled in and out of the lineup and he’s fared well for the most part. He started very capably when Reggie Bullock was out and while it’s not the most glimmering basketball, he’s been able to man the point when asked. He still finds a way to leave breakaway layups a half-foot short but Burks has been an excellent signing all told. When he has it going, it helps underscore just how valuable good shooting and merely passable defense can be to team success.

Speaking of good shooting and merely passable defense, the Mavs come to the Garden sporting Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porzingis. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Seventh in the West despite a slow start that had Knicks fans salivating over the potential for two lottery picks. Dallas clawed their way up to become a top ten offense. Good lord, I feel like I’m soaked in Luka’s pitiful tears already. The Knicks have taken the first few steps on a pretty slippery slope. Hopefully a slick bead of sweat pouring of the flamingo’s beak doesn’t slide under foot and send the Knicks to the floor in a calamitous heap.

Game is at 7:30, Knicks by -16.

Dallas Mavericks v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Parting Shot

I know it’s nice to have the Knicks actually playing .500 ball and exceeding early expectations. It’s honestly a wonderful story! I’m so happy to have them succeeding and growing together. The future actually has some nice lighting for the first time in forever. That’s a huge win unto itself. In the end I don’t think they have the juice to make a hole in the playoffs anyway. A dent, perhaps, chipping golf balls at the playoff’s car doors. I still find space to criticize because the corners are dark and dusty. That doesn’t mean I don’t love how this house is shaping up to become a home.

Patrick Ewing (33) of the New York Knicks dunks during game Photo by Keith Torrie/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images