The Knicks are coming off of a solid road victory against what was for the most part a soulless Wolves team. They will be looking to get above the dreaded .500 mark on Wednesday night, facing a Nets team that started 1-5 but have since turned things around slightly as they have gone 2-1 in their last three contests.
As of Wednesday morning, Quentin Grimes (foot) is questionable and Mitchell Robinson remains out for the Knicks while the Nets will be without Yuta Watanabe (ankle), TJ Warren (foot), and Kyrie Irving (suspension).
The relatively unknown Edmond Sumner will draw his fourth consecutive start for the Nets. The sixth-year man out of Xavier wasn’t getting big minutes to start the season but has been called on to be the starting point guard since Irving’s suspension. In his three starts, he’s averaging 7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.3 APG, and 1.3 SPG on 38.9% shooting from the field and 42.9% from 3. His offense most likely won’t kill you but he’s shown the ability to be active on defense and use his quickness to get in the passing lane. Thankfully, the Knicks can entrust their offense to their starting point guard, Jalen Brunson, who is in the midst of a three-game stretch that sees him carrying a 25:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Brunson is coming off yet another incredibly efficient and good overall game where he scored 23 points and handed out 8 assists on 9-14 (64.3%) from the field and is now averaging 19.7 PPG and 7.3 APG on 50.7% shooting from the field.
Sharpshooter Joe Harris will join Sumner in the backcourt and will look to build off what was by far his best game of the season against the Mavericks. Harris, who is coming off an injury-plagued 2021-22 campaign, is currently averaging a 7.4 PPG on 41.3% from the field and 32.6% from three. All of those would be the lowest of his Nets tenure, but fans are hoping that he’s turned the corner as the veteran wingman is coming off a 14-point performance in which he shot 6-10. He’ll be matched up against Cam Reddish who has, in a way, reinvented himself as of late. Reddish, who is averaging just 7.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG, and 1 APG, isn’t necessarily the offensive beast fans hoped he could become, but his unselfishness on offense and versatility on defense has been of great help to a starting lineup that needed it badly.
Offseason pickup Royce O’Neal will get the nod once again. He’s currently having one the best season of his career with career-highs in PPG (10.9), APG (4.1), SPG (1.3), BPG (.8) MPG (36.6) and 3PT% (41.8%) but is also at or near career-lows in FG% (39.8) FT% (75) and RPG (3.2). Facing him will be RJ Barrett who, despite struggling mightily (once again) from 3 to start the season, is enjoying a very solid season averaging 19.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 2.9 APG on 43.1% from the field and a surprisingly high 81.4% from the free throw line.
Kevin Durant (surprise) will get the start for the Nets. Despite recently turning 34 years old, Durant is having one of his best seasons. Through the first 11 games, he’s averaging video game-like numbers of 31 PPG, 6 RPG, 4.7 APG on a 51.8% from the field despite constantly being double and even triple-teamed. Julius Randle, who is coming off of his best game of the season in which he drained a career-high-tying eight three-pointers en route to a season-high 31 points, will try to match one of the best in the league. Randle has had a very up-and-down season with some great games and some not-so-great games, and while the sample size isn’t big by any means, he’s managed to average 20.1 PPG and 8.9 RPG on a solid 45.9% from the field and a very good 53.2% on two-pointers.
Nic Claxton, who is the only Net besides Durant and O’Neal to start every game this season, will do so again. He’s gotten off to a hot start to the season averaging career-highs across the board with 12.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.3 BPG, and .9 SPG with a ridiculous 71.8FG%. With Robinson still out, it will be interesting to see who coach Thibodeau goes with here. Isaiah Hartenstein got the start against the Celtics last Saturday but he went with Jericho Sims on Monday against the Timberwolves. The belief is that Thibs went with the faster Sims to stay with Towns, who is a deadly pick-and-pop threat. Expect Hartenstein, who is averaging 8 PPG, 8.4 RPG, and 1.1 APG, to get the start again.
The Knicks have two options when it comes to stopping the Durant-led Nets offense. Blitz Durant, who has historically struggled being a playmaker in traffic (re-watch the Nets Celtics playoff series for a prime example), and hope to contain him and force turnovers. Or let him get the 30-plus points he often gets with ease and stop the other guys. Regardless of which direction Thibs goes with, it’s easier said than done. The Knicks' defense, which remains inconsistent, will be tested. Assuming Durant’s offensive burst is a given, look for Joe Harris to be the X-factor for the Nets. With how susceptible the Knicks have been to the 3-point shot, Harris could easily heat up and have himself a big game. They’ll also have to be on the lookout for Cam Thomas. The second-year guard, who wasn’t even in the rotation until Irving’s suspension, is averaging 19 PPG and 4 APG in his last three games. And we all remember him taking over late against the Knicks just last year.
The Knicks' offense, if they continue to push the pace and move the ball around, should also thrive against the Nets. They rank 22nd in the league in defensive rating and will be missing Watanabe, who is possibly their best defender. Barrett and Randle won’t have the easiest tasks as they are sure to go up against Durant and O’Neal, two solid defenders, so the Knicks will need to rely on Brunson, who has a heavily favored matchup, to be more aggressive than usual.
This game, as is so often does with Knicks games, may come down to the bench again. The Nets bench has some big names like Patty Mills, Seth Curry, the aforementioned Cam Thomas, and last but certainly not least, Ben Simmons. That bench definitely has the firepower and ability to be a solid one, but they’ve yet to be consistently good. The Knicks bench, who has been good for the majority of the season, should have the advantage, especially with Obi Toppin playing some incredibly fun and productive basketball.
This game figures to be close. Durant alone is enough to keep a game close and the Nets have been playing better overall since Irving’s suspension. But the Knicks, coming off of a confidence-building win, take the victory 115-110. Durant and Thomas have big games but Brunson comes through and has his first BIG game in what will be his early-season Knick moment.