Last night, the New York Knicks were unexpectedly triumphant in Utah, 118-111. Tonight they travel 520 miles east to the mountains of Colorado for a game against the Denver Nuggets (9-4). Watch for yawns on the bench.
Since 1976, the ’Bockers have a 15-32 record in Denver. They are 44-51 against the Nuggets all-time. The Nuggy Bunch sit second in the Western Conference and have won four of their last five. Their 25th-ranked defense has issues, but the league’s fourth-best offense more than compensates by shooting 42% from beyond the arc and ranking 10th for pace. The stats make this contest look bleak, and yet…the infinite and omnipotent energy source that powers our universe has chosen to toy with our emotions:
Nuggets star Nikola Jokic has entered health and safety protocols and is listed out vs. Knicks on Wednesday.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 16, 2022
Should be entertaining. Tip-off’s at 10 p.m. our time, New Yorkers.
Jamal Murray (6’3”, 215 lb.) is back after missing all of last season (ACL). So far, the sixth-year man out of Canada has averaged 16.2 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 44% from the floor and 35% from deep. He has a respectable 4.3:2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Murray’s numbers are down compared to his four pre-injury seasons, and his RAPTOR score (which calculates how many points a player contributes on offense and defense per 100 possessions) is -0.3, suggesting that he is still getting back into shape after sitting for a year.
Tonight, Murray will draw Jalen Brunson, who logged 25 points, three boards, and eight dimes in Salt Lake City. After last season’s playoffs and yesterday’s game, Utah plans to rename the arena in his honor. And boy, sticking one to Danny Ainge sure felt good last night. #smallrevenge
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (6’3”, 215 lb.) remains my favorite name in basketball. Playing his first season for Denver, the ten-year vet is averaging 11.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. He remains a decent defender, ranking in the 84th percentile for deflections with 3.2 and grabbing 1.5 steals per game. Opposing him tonight will be Cam Reddish, who thrilled on both ends and finished with 19 points yesterday.
Michael Porter Jr. (6’10”, 218 lb.), has averaged 18 points and 6.4 rebounds this season. He’s shooting 48% from deep (ninth in the NBA) and takes 7.4 a game. Great. Just the sort of guy who feasts on poor perimeter defense, which is an affliction the Knicks suffer from, and which means that RJ Barrett had better eat his Wheaties.
Nine-year vet Aaron Gordon (6’8”, 235 lb.) is averaging 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds. The former Arizona Wildcat has averaged 13 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 13 games against former Kentucky Wildcat Julius Randle. Will Gordon score more than 13 tonight against Randle’s wishy-washy D? Stay up to watch!
Nikola Jokić (6’11”, 284 lb.) is in health and safety protocols, and therefore OUT tonight. According to the ESPN depth chart, DeAndre Jordan is the next man up. LOL. That’s an easier assignment for either Isaiah Hartenstein or Jericho Sims. The latter was a dervish in Utah, with 11 points, 13 rebounds, and at least one lob that turned my knees to jelly. If this basketball thing doesn’t work out, Sims would be a terrific pitchman for a trampoline company.
Actually, I’m bummed not to see Jokic in action tonight. When not walking on water, the two-time MVP, four-time All-Star, and four-time All-NBA selection is averaging 20.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 8.9 assists in 31.1 minutes per game this season. If you’re bored, go to the “Leaderboards, Awards, and Honors” section on his Basketball-Reference page, click “Expand all Leaderboards,” and commence scrolling. Ridiculous.
The 27-year-old Jokic will earn $33 M this season, which ranks 29th in the league. His five-year contract increases annually and reaches $61.4 M in 2027-28, which by then—after all the cap increases and TV money we hear about, and assuming that his physical condition will remain constant—will probably seem like an insulting underpay. I usually avoid conversations about contracts because each situation is different, which complicates comparisons. Yet, while browsing box scores, I sometimes stop at Joker and indulge the popcorn thought: “Russell Westbrook makes $14 million more than this beast.”
Injured for Denver: Ish Smith and Bones Hyland. I’m still stung by the memory of that February game in New York in which Hyland scored 22 points, six boards, and three assists in 25 minutes. He was exceedingly annoying, maybe because he was thrashing my team. Happy not to see him again.
Pain, even without Jokic. Knicks by -12.
Ball Arena. Wednesday. 10 p.m. ET. Knock ’em out, Knicks!