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Game Preview: Knicks vs. Clippers-01/23/22

A matinee game against a gritty team.

New York Knicks v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Yet again this week, the New York Knicks (22-24) will play a team that has essentially their same record when the Los Angeles Clippers (23-24) pay a visit. ESPN.com gives New York a 59% chance of winning. Surely thou jest, Espy? Did you watch their last three games?

Paul George (torn elbow ligament) last played on December 22. Since then, the Clippers have gone 6-9 with a rotating cast. In fact, coach Ty Lue has made do with a slapdash squad for the entire season:

Nonetheless, the Clippers beat on, boats against the current. On Friday, the eighth-seeded team in the West overcame a 24-point deficit to defeat the Sixers, 102-101. On Sunday, their road trip continues at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks are 11-14.

L.A. eats a healthy diet of mid-range shots (15 per, fourth in NBA) and scores well from the paint (45%, fourth) and left corner (43%, second). Defend accordingly, Knicks. The team holds the sixth-ranked defensive rating but are mediocre in fast break/transition. That’s a relief because New York huffed behind the speedy Charlotte and Minnesota in recent games.

Are you as confident as ESPN that the Bockers will win the first of their two regular-season meetings?

A matinee! Tip-off’s at 1:00 p.m., sailors.

PROJECTED STARTERS

Point guard Reggie Jackson leads the Clippers with 16.7 points per game. The 6’2”, 208 lbs playmaker was Friday’s hero, dropping 19 against Philadelphia. In his career, Jackson has averaged 12 points and 5.5 assists in 21 games against Kemba Walker, who is questionable for the game:

Cam Reddish is ready to go, at last! Don’t expect him to see many minutes, though. Thibodeau is pretty stingy about his rotation....

During Paul George’s latest absence, 24-year old Amir Coffey (6’7”, 210 lbs) has averaged 11.9 points and 4.6 rebounds. During that stretch, the shooting guard has hit 43% from the perimeter on five attempts per game. Random dudes are wont to have career games at the Mecca (see: Jose Alvarado), so watch Coffey, whose career high is 21 points. Let’s hope Evan Fournier has recovered from whatever basketball-ability-sapping affliction ailed him against the Pelicans (six points, 2-of-8 from the field).

In his eleventh season, Marcus Morris, Sr. is grabbing 16 points and 5.2 boards per game. Mr. Elbows played only 43 games for the Knicks in 2019-20, but his scrappiness and 44% 3-point shooting made the Fizdale experience more endurable. His physical play will test RJ Barrett’s mettle today.

Center Ivica Zubac leads his squad with eight rebounds per game. He averages 9.7 points but torched the Nuggets for 32 on Wednesday. The 7’0”, 240 lbs Croatian is enjoying a career year. Pity Mitchell Robinson, who had two straight tough assignments, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jonas Valančiūnas. No picnic today, either.

Power forward Nicolas Batum has played solid defense for L.A. this season. The 3-and-D man has averaged 9.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in his fourteenth campaign. Will Julius Randle feel up to the competition? Who knows. He went incommunicado seven or so games ago, hence his on-court play must speak for him:

Julius logged nice numbers in December (19.1 ppg / 9.8 rpg / 4.7 apg). BUT, on December 29, he collected five points and 10 rebounds and shot 18% against the Pistons. YET, for the next three games, he averaged 21.7 points and 12 rebounds. BUT, on January 10, Randle recorded two paltry points and 12 rebounds and shot 14% in a win over the Spurs.

YET, across the next four outings, Julius boomeranged again, averaging 20 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 7.3 assists. BUT, against the mighty (cough) Pelicans, he posted four points and seven rebounds and heard a boo-bird serenade.

These stats help to illustrate the up-and-down effort that infuriates fans. But take heart, Knicks faithful. Given his latest trend, we can expect three or four solid outings before he lays another egg. Bring on Batum!

PREDICTION

Recently, Knick with the Knack opined, “I watched the Clippers and Nuggets…. The Clippers without George and Leonard are particularly impressive. I noticed both teams played really young athletic guys who were drafted in the second round. And, those young guys made plays (and some mistakes, but they didn’t get yanked for them).”

Those sound like fun teams to watch, unlike the Knicks for much of this season. Always we begin again, however. Maybe Thibodeau & Co. have reinvented themselves over the past two days. Let’s predict a win today: how could ESPN be wrong?

The Big Apple. Sunday at 1 p.m. MSG and NBA League Pass. Go, New York, Go!