The New York Knicks (16-13) are the toast of the East, having mounted a six-game win streak. Credit goes to their defense. Finally playing as a cohesive unit, the best version of this Knicks squad works together to lock down the court and prevent easy buckets, is not afraid to get physical, is invested in every play, harasses ball-handlers, disrupts the passing lanes, and crashes the glass. A team of unrelenting hustlers and scrappers is a joy to watch.
Over those six games, the Knicks have stolen the ball an average of 7.7 times, including 13 thefts in their last against Chicago. These brawling ballers now have the league’s eighth-ranked defense and 13th-best offense.
This suddenly became an extremely fun Knicks season out of nowhere— Andrew Claudio (@AndrewJClaudio_) December 17, 2022
The Indiana Pacers (15-15) started strong but have since slid back to their pre-season predictions, going 3-7 in their last 10 games. Rick Carlisle’s crew is an offensively-potent bunch, scoring 114.9 points per game and playing at the league’s fourth-fastest pace. They rate fourth in the league for three-pointers with 40.1 per tilt, and they sink 36.5%. However, their defense is suspect, ranking 21st of 30 teams, and they struggle to close games.
Tonight, the Knicks travel to Indiana for the third game of a short mid-west road trip. Worth your attention this evening will be Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana’s rookie out of Arizona who has been a revelation as a reserve shooting guard. In 30 minutes per game, the ferocious Canadian has averaged 18 points and 4.1 rebounds, and only Tyrese Haliburton scores more points for the Pacers. Surely, he will deserve consideration for Rookie of the Year and might even take it if Paolo Banchero magically turns into pudding.
The Knicks’ win streak is the longest in the Eastern Conference. There’s an excellent chance they prolong the party tonight. Tip-off’s at 5:00 p.m. EST, Hoosier haters.
Jalen Brunson canned a career-high six three-pointers against Chicago on Friday. Let’s all speak it into reality: All-Star… All-Star….
This evening, Jalen will pair with Tyrese Haliburton, whose 19.7 points per game leads the Pacers and whose 10.7 assists top the league. Tyrese also rates fourth in the NBA for steals with 1.8. Before he was drafted in 2020, I worried that his size (6’5”, 180 lb.) would present durability issues. Wrong again.
Leading the defensive charge and possessing one of the sweetest strokes we’ve seen in years, Quentin Grimes has become an indispensable Knick. He scored 22 points in their last game and has averaged 13.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in his last six. He drained five threes on Friday, with the Knicks’ starting backcourt going 11-from-18 from deep, and they’ve played only 19 times together. The future is bright.
His Pacer counterpart, Andrew Nembhard (6’5”, 193 lb.) is averaging 8.7 points, 3.9 assists, and three rebounds while shooting 47% from the field, and 40% from deep on 3.6 attempts. It’s only a matter of time before Mathurin replaces him in the starting line-up.
Buddy Hield, a 6’4” shooting guard, has had a fine season offensively, averaging 17.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. A threat from beyond the arc, he’s shooting 39% on 9.2 attempts per game and takes the second-most treys in the league with 277. He’s a defensive sieve, however, so perhaps RJ Barrett will repeat Friday night’s 27-point performance.
Vanderbilt alum Aaron Nesmith (6’5”, 211 lb.), drafted 14th in 2020, has averaged 8.2 points and 3.3 rebounds this season. The forward is shooting 37% from beyond the arc on four attempts per contest. Nesmith has also proven to be good on the glass, ranking in the 79th percentile for rim defense.
Julius Randle has the height and weight advantage on Nesmith and has been playing excellently of late—with a few frustrating exceptions (see last Wednesday’s final 24 seconds of regulation). My hat’s off to him for his defense effort on Friday, however. The stat sheet won’t reflect it, but he was a force on D, the area for which he’s been most maligned. Those of you who had soaked your Randle jerseys in lighter fluid, don’t strike that match just yet.
Julius should feast tonight. Note the two Knicks on the following Hoops Hype top-30 list (ignore number six):
The 30 best players in the NBA this season according to Hoops Hype Global Rating rankings pic.twitter.com/rWaY36UjkQ— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) December 17, 2022
Myles Turner (6’11”, 250 lb.) is having another strong season, averaging 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. He is an efficient shooter, making 55% of his field goal attempts and 43% of his three-point attempts, taking just under four attempts per game. Turner has played well defensively, ranking third in the league for blocks with 2.2 per contest. No big surprise there, since he has twice won the NBA Block Champion honors, in 2018-19 and 2020-21.
Mitchell Robinson anchors a team that’s finally found its identity. He has a defensive rating of 108.2 this season and is in the 99 percentile for offensive rebounds. The Knicks have an offensive rating of 118.2 when he’s on the court, and 111.6 when he’s not. He has averaged 10.8 rebounds, 8.4 points, and 1.7 blocks in his last 10 games. His matchup with Turner tonight will be a fun one to watch.
Tonight is the first of four regular-season meetings with the Pacers. Keeping Indiana under 100 points will be a challenge, but New York is up for it. The Pacers will sink some threes, but the Knicks will match them. After three competitive quarters, New York will pull away in the final frame and win the game by 10. Seven wins in a row, baby!
The Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Sunday. 5:00 p.m. EST. Be terrible guests, Knicks!