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Game Preview: Knicks vs. Thunder- 02/14/22

A tepid Thunder rolls into town to face the reeling Knicks.

New York Knicks v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

After a disappointing 1-4 road trip out west, the New York Knicks (25-32) must be relieved to be home again and hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder (17-39). The Thunder are competitive but also fairly terrible. Tonight, they will lack their zippy point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (ankle) and their top two centers. Statistics and logic suggest that the Knicks should finally enjoy an easy win. And, yet….

Loud City whomped the Knicks in their first meeting, 95-80. RJ Barrett led the Knicks in scoring with 26 points. SGA dropped 23 points for OKC. In a game without Julius Randle and Kemba Walker, delightful dunker Obi Toppin (five points, seven boards) and G-League superstar Deuce McBride (seven points) appeared in the starting line-up.

Rookie head coach Mark Daigneault helms a team that ranks 11th in defense, 30th in offense, and 18th in pace. Most recently, they lost to the Bulls, 106-101, their fifth straight defeat. Do the Knicks (2-8 in their last 10) have enough dignity left to take care of business? Or will they fold like a bunch of empty jerseys blowing in a storm, hiding from lightning, shrinking from thunder?

Confidence, wherefore art thou? Tip-off’s at 7:30 p.m., tornado chasers.

PROJECTED STARTERS

Rookie point guard Tre Mann (6’3”, 178 lbs) has averaged 7.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, and started 11 of his 43 appearances. The Florida alum, the 18th pick in the 2021 draft, has been erratic, scoring anywhere from 29 points (against Dallas, 2/2/22) to two (twice last week, against Toronto and Philly). He’s an average defender at best, so Kemba Walker should have plenty of opportunities to smile tonight.

The sixth selection in the 2021 draft, Josh Giddey (6’8”, 210 lbs) has averaged 12 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 6.2 assists in 31 minutes per game. He’s been a featured player on this young squad and has shown promise, recording his second triple-double (11/12/10) the other night against the Bulls. The 19-year old Australian is an excellent passer but shoots a dreadful 26% from the perimeter. Evan Fournier should work to keep him out there.

Arizona State alum Luguentz Dort (6’3”, 215 lbs) rates second on the team in per game totals for points (17.2) and minutes (32.6), and field goal attempts (14.2). In his third NBA campaign, Lu is launching 7.7 threes per game but connecting on only 33% of them. He’s likely to square off with the second-coming of Klay Thompson, Quentin Grimes, while the crown prince RJ Barrett continues to nurse a bum ankle. (Still mad at you about that, Thibs.)

In his third season, Darius Bazley (6’8”, 208 lbs) has averaged 9.7 points and 6.6 boards. The 21-year old is not a terrible defender, sporting a 106.8 defensive rating and using his seven-foot wingspan to swat 1.2 blocks per game. Nonetheless, Julius Randle won’t have any trouble sustaining his improved play (27.3/12.7/6.7 in his last six outings).

Third-stringer, Isaiah Roby (6’8”, 230 lbs) will get the nod with Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala out. The junior center scored eight points and nine rebounds over 18 minutes when OKC last met New York, upticks from his averages of 6.5 points and 3.2 rebounds. Mitchell Robinson logged nine points and 12 boards in their last clash. Look for Mitch to eat well tonight if he plays (day-to-day with ankle soreness). He took one for the team after Saturday’s pathetic collapse in Portland.

PREDICTION

Our heroes will be a little thin tonight, with RJ, Mitch, and Cam Reddish all questionable, Nerlens Noel disappeared from the planet, and Derrick Rose recovering from surgery. Even depleted, the Knicks should win in a walk…but you’ve watched them play, too, right? Yeah, nothing’s a given with this squad. They will be on their home court, however, and OKC is odoriferous. Let’s embrace optimism when it’s available since it’s so scarce these days. Knicks by six because it rhymes.

Madison Square Garden. Monday. 7:30 p.m. Bring da ruckus, Knicks.