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Game Preview: Knicks vs. Pelicans- 01/20/22

Seeking to snap the skid before the competition gets tougher.

New York Knicks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

In October, the New York Knicks defeated the New Orleans Pelicans, raised their record to 5-1, and convinced some fans that this team might Bing-Bong its way deep into the playoffs.

How quickly things change.

The Pels lacked Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson in that October affair, and its result brought the sum of their achievements to 1-6, thereby reaffirming a lower set of expectations for their fan base.

Whereas some Knicks loyalists are apoplectic about their heroes languishing outside the playoff bracket, the New Orleans faithful can’t be shocked that their Big Easies rank thirteenth in the Western Conference. Most recently, the Birds lost in Boston 104-92, despite a 22-point, 14-rebound performance from their underappreciated center Jonas Valančiūnas. More on him later.

Thursday, the Pelicans (16-28) will swoop into Madison Square Garden for another peck at the Bockers (22-23). With a 6-17 road record, these fowl seem ripe for the plucking, and the Knicks, losers of two straight, are craving a win.

Do Pelicans peck? Tip-off’s at 7:30 p.m., ornithologists.

PROJECTED STARTERS

Shooting guard Brandon Ingram leads New Orleans in averages for points (22.7), assists (5.2), field goals (8.3), field goal attempts (18.7), and minutes (34.6). Despite his 7’3” wingspan, the 24-year old Duke alum steals only 0.6 balls per game and ranks in the eleventh percentile for deflections (1.2 dpg). Evan Fournier, who has finally found his New York Groove midway through the season, will get his quota tonight.

Listed as questionable for tonight, Devonte’ Graham tops the Pels in 3-point attempts (8.4) and makes (3) on 35% shooting. Thus far in his fourth season, the 26-year old point guard has averaged 13.8 points and 4.6 assists and fires most often from 20-29 ft. The diminutive Graham has a 115.5 defensive rating. Kemba Walker should get some easy looks against him if Graham plays.

Small forward Josh Hart has averaged 13.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game in his fifth year. The 6’5”, 215 lbs Villanova man takes 58% of his shots from within 10 ft. and 24% off catch-and-shoot. He attempts only three 3’s per game due to a 33% accuracy. Hart’s counterpart RJ Barrett had turned a corner of late, then retreated to the doldrums. Barrett would do well to regain his Maple Mojo in this one; he’ll need it against the tough competition upcoming.

Tonight, the frustrated bull known as Julius Randle will surely gore the thirty-fifth pick in this year’s draft, Herbert Jones. Though raw, the 6’8”, 210 lbs Alabama alum has shown promise, averaging 9.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in 29 minutes per game, plus 3.7 deflections, 1.4 steals, and one block.

The aforementioned Valančiūnas dominates around the iron. The 6’11”, 265 lbs Lithuanian is fourth in each of these top rebounding categories: total, per game, offensive, and defensive. Playing his tenth season, the 29-year old is averaging 18.4 points and 12 boards in 31.6 minutes per game and shooting 42% from deep on 2.5 attempts.

Occasionally, Jonas activates Bombs-Away mode, as he did one night against the Clippers, going 7-for-8 from long and ending with 39 points, 15 rebounds. I heart the big fella, but for now, I’m pledged to Mitchell Robinson. Against Karl-Anthony Towns on Tuesday, however, Mitch collected eight points, six boards, and six fouls. Tonight’s assignment won’t be much easier for the Cajun. More rebounds than fouls this time, please.

PREDICTIONS

The Pelicans are 4-6 in their last 10 games. Their wins came against the Warriors, Clippers, Timberwolves, and Cavaliers. They lost to the Jazz, Suns, Bucks, Raptors, Nets, and Celtics. Honestly, how do you think New York (5-5 in their last 10) would fare against that competition?

No, New Orleans isn’t good. Their offense rates twenty-fifth, and their defense is twenty-fourth. Thanks to Valančiūnas, however, they have the third-best rebounding percentage at 51.8%. Comparatively, New York rates twenty-third (O) and sixteenth (D), and eighth in rebounding pct. (50.9%). Should the Knicks win? Sure. Are they the superior team? Sure…when they play to their ability. Will they tonight? Man, I hope so.

New York has tough sledding ahead with the Clips, Cavs, Heat, and Bucks all looming. Nobody wants to head into those trees with three consecutive losses on their back.

Dolan’s Place. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. MSG and NBA League Pass. Rock ’em, sock ’em, Bockers!