The sky is falling on the New York Knicks (3-4) after only seven games.
RJ Barrett is playing like a boyfriend who’s trying to salvage a relationship after his partner has cheated; he’s going through the motions, unconvincingly. Evan Fournier seems like he is halfway out the door. Mitchell Robinson is so inconsequential on offense that the game becomes 4-on-5 when the Knicks have the ball, save for stray lobs—plus, Mitch averages 5.8 fouls per 36 minutes. Julius Randle has shown encouraging signs through the first few games but still resorts to bad habits when the offense falls into disarray. Jalen Brunson is great, sure. He can’t do everything, man.
That’s the starting five. In their most recent embarrassment, New York blew a massive lead over the Atlanta Hawks, blundered to a 180-degree collapse, rolled over, and died. Tonight they travel to face another conference rival, the Philadelphia 76ers (4-5).
After a shaky start, the Sixers are figuring things out. They started the season 1-and-4, inspiring rumors that coach Doc Rivers might be careening toward unemployment. Since then, they won three of four, including a 22-point spanking of Toronto.
If there’s a silver lining for the Knicks tonight, it’s that James Harden is injured and out. Given the Knicks’ performance on Wednesday, maybe his absence won’t matter much. Last season, the two teams split their four meetings. Will they again? Tip-off’s at 7:00 p.m., Chicken Littles.
Jalen Brunson is doing his best. With New York, he has averaged career-highs in points (18.4), assists (6.9), rebounds (3.7), and minutes per game (33.7). His 32% from three is one blemish because it’s down from his career average of 37%, but considering his work ethic, that average will improve soon. Tonight, he’ll square up against Tyrese Maxey (6’2”, 200 lb.).
The Sixers fell 121-111 to the Wizards on Wednesday, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort from Maxey. The third-year guard logged 32 points while 55% shooting from the floor and going 5-for-9 from beyond the arc. Over the last five games, he’s shot a scalding 54% from deep on 8.2 attempts. Unless the Knicks have miraculously amended their woeful perimeter defense, expect a big Maxey game tonight.
What’s going on with Evan Fournier? Neither he nor the team seemed very interested in creating shots for Evan on Wednesday, when he managed only three points on 1-for-6 shooting. While the team collapsed, they could have used a couple more threes from their sharpshooter, but he faded away. Maybe EuroBasket took too much out of him? This season, he has averaged 10.6 points in 24.4 minutes per game. Without providing offense, his presence in the starting line-up is unjustifiable given his limitations on the defensive end. Consider this:
Fournier exits game in Q1: 18-16 Knicks— Teg (@IQfor3) November 3, 2022
Fournier returns to game in Q2: 53-36 Knicks
Fournier exits game in Q3: 77-71 Hawks
De’Anthony Melton (6’2”, 200 lb.) will likely fill in for Harden tonight. Melton has played for the Grizzlies, Suns, and 76ers over his five-year career. The 24-year-old has averaged 8.4 points in 243 regular-season games. This season, he’s shooting 52% from the field and 41% from deep on 3.4 attempts. (See previous perimeter defense concern.)
RJ Barrett (17.9 points, 5.7 rebounds) is off to his annual slow start. Or maybe he’s grudgy about being dangled in trade talks last summer. Whichever: he needs to quit it. Tonight, he’s likely to see a lot of Tobias Harris (6’8”, 226 lb.). Toby has averaged 13.4 points and 6.2 rebounds this season and will receive $37.6 million for that. Not bad work if you can get it.
Julius Randle has averaged 17.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in 32.6 minutes per game so far. Tonight, he must cook the old man P.J. Tucker (6’5”, 245 lb.). The 37-year-old P.J. got the start on Wednesday and did his best, notching five points and two rebounds in 28 minutes. Look for a 20+ point performance from Julius, or make him ride the bus back to MSG.
Mitchell Robinson has taken 85% of his field goal attempts from 0-3 feet. The remaining 15% of his attempts were from 3-10 feet from the iron. Floor spacing? Who needs it? Tonight he’ll be bumping up against perennial MVP candidate, Joel Embiid (7’0”, 280 lb.). Embiid missed Wednesday’s game due to an unspecified illness. With averages of 23.6 points and 10.7 rebounds in 15 previous games against the Knicks, if he feels like sitting this one out, I won’t complain (a first).
Maxey will be a flamethrower, and Melton (aka “Who?”) will have a career night, with both of them exploiting the Knicks’ woeful outside D. Still, the Knicks battle it out, down to the wire, finding pride on an away court that somehow eludes them at home. During the last two minutes, the teams trade baskets—including a big shot by Barrett to put New York up by one, which is, at last, the deciding point.
Or, that’s just fun fan fiction. Maybe they get totally blown out in the third quarter and never recover. Gotta tune in to find out, folks.
Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia Cream Cheese. 7:00 p.m. Friday night basketball. Yay Knicks.