New York stands tall after beating a weakened San Antonio Spurs on Monday. Dallas is riding a six-game win streak, most recently defeating the Chicago Bulls 113-99. They have the league’s sixth-ranked defense. Their star Luka Dončić is playing through a right ankle sprain, which comes after missing five games with left ankle soreness and spending time in health and safety protocols. You wouldn’t guess it, based on the 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists he grabbed against Chicago.
Our old friend Jason Kidd won’t be stalking the sidelines tonight, having tested positive for COVID. Other familiar faces will be present, however, including Reginald Ryedell Bullock, Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Trey Burke, and Theo Pinson.
Sorry, gang, Kristaps Porziņģis is in health and safety protocols so you’ll have to direct your boos elsewhere. Whom from Dallas could you possibly boo instead?
This feels like a family reunion. Tip-off’s at 7:30 PM, James Garner fans.
Luka Dončić was the only NBA player in history with over 20 triple-doubles at age 21 or younger. Although the Slovenian Stallion’s statistics have tapered off in his fourth season, he still averages 24.8 points, nine assists, and 8.2 rebounds. No slouch.
On the Knicks side, Kemba Walker remains questionable (knee). Of late, Immanuel Quickley has been developing nicely as the point guard understudy, but until he’s given the reins, Alec Burks will get the nod.
Jalen Brunson is averaging 16 points and 5.6 assists. ESPN’s Depth Chart lists the 6’1”, 190 lbs Villanova alum as a shooting guard, but he’s also an excellent playmaker over whom many Knicks fans have drooled. For New York, Evan Fournier has shown encouraging signs in recent games, averaging 16.4 points over his past five outings. Brunson is a respectable defender, though, so Evan shouldn’t expect an easy night.
This season, 3&D guy Dorian Finney-Smith has averaged 10.5 points and 4.7 rebounds. The 6’7”, 220 lbs Florida product is a fine defender, averaging a steal and 2.6 deflections per game, and will be hunting for spot-up shots tonight.
Recently against Boston, New York’s small forward, RJ Barrett banked a last-second shot and went to bed a hero. On Monday against the Spurs, he balled out with 31 points in 31 minutes, on 12-for-20 from the field and 3-for-4 from deep. He has averaged 22.8 points and 4.8 boards over his last five games. These signs indicate that our basketball bronco has busted free from his funk. Will he keep it up against tougher competition?
Maxi Kleber is filling in with Porziņģis out. The 6’10”, 240 lbs Kleber is collecting 7.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in about 25 minutes per game. He’ll square off with Dallas native Julius Randle, whom I predicted to have success against the Spurs...and he scored 2 points. He’ll tally a few more beans than that tonight.
Dwight Powell has a 108.2 defensive rating, appeared in every game this season, and averaged 7.1 points and 4.6 boards in about 20 minutes per contest. Not a bad player. I’d give the advantage to Mitchell Robinson, though, who could use a big game to rekindle the passion of his true believers.
This year’s Knicks are 20-21 and had the same record at this point last season. If they feel like a worse team, however, a big reason is Reggie Bullock’s absence. Reggie brought integrity, defensive intensity, and excellent interpersonal skills. With a guy of his caliber in your huddle, sometimes you dig deeper to try to win for him. He brought the best out of Julius Randle. If the reports were true that Thibs lobbied to keep Reggie last summer, maybe the coach knows something about intangibles after a long career with a clipboard.
So, I miss Reggie Bullock, and it bums me out that he’s had a tough time in Dallas. Tonight he’ll get an ovation from my living room.
And I miss Theo Pinson. That dude is like that dancer for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. He doesn’t do much except hype the team, but maybe that’s worth the last seat on the bench.
As for tonight’s outcome…hey, it’s a basketball game. Enjoy it. Enjoy all your Ntilikina emotions, your Frank feels. Remember that a year ago, the Knicks beat the Orlando Magic to tie their record at 21-21. If they win tonight and return to .500, savor a victory over a talented team and appreciate the occasional symmetry of life. (And reconsider that Jerami Grant trade you’ve been chewin on.)
Manhattan, NYC. 7:30 PM. B-E-A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E Knicks!