Holy smokes. Not only have the New York Knicks (28-38) won three straight games, but most recently they held Luka and the Mavs to 77 points. This is their first win streak since mid-January. It’s late to show signs of life (and competency), but there could be just enough time left to snag a play-in spot.
On Friday, our Knickerbockin’ heroes challenge the league’s second-youngest team, the Memphis Grizzlies (45-22). Back in February, the Grizz beat New York 120-108 at Madison Square Garden thanks to Jaren Jackson, Jr.’s 26 points. For the Knicks, Evan Fournier dropped a sizzling 30.
Head coach Taylor Jenkins has captained the Bear Bunch to second place in Western Conference. They are 23-10 at home, score a bunch of points, play gritty defense, and zip up the floor. Memphis is also 6-4 over their last 10, with losses to the Trail Blazers, Timberwolves, Celtics, and Rockets. They can be beaten, but they don’t go down easily.
Memphis has big bigs in the frontcourt. Will Mitchell Robinson continue his recent, scintillating play for New York? Will Julius Randle be engaged on both offense and defense? To escape the Volunteer state victoriously, the Knicks will need quality contributions from both men tonight.
Bring on the furballs. Tip-off’s at 8:00 p.m., agriculture and commerce fans.
The Grizzlies’ team leader and top man in points per game (27.2), assists (6.7), and minutes per game (33.2) is 22-year old Ja Morant. You might have heard. The human trampoline is a pesky defender and grabs 5.8 rebounds per outing. He’ll face Alec Burks, who didn’t shoot great in Dallas but finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and +26.
First of the bench, Immanuel Quickley looks more comfortable as a point guard these days, averaging 16.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and four assists in his last five games. He and defensive bulldog Miles McBride have played significant roles in the win streak. Add Quentin Grimes and that’s a trio I would relish watching every night.
Sophomore Desmond Bane (6’5”, 215 lbs) is third on the Grizzlies with 17.9 points per game. The 23-year old shoots 42% percent from downtown on about seven attempts.
Bane had an off night when these two teams played in February and shot a putrid 4-for-18 from the field, 4-for-11 from the perimeter. Conversely, Evan Fournier couldn’t miss, going 11-18 from the floor and 8-12 from downtown for 30 points. The Knicks will need a repeat of that output tonight against a team that scores 114.2 points per tilt.
The 10th selection of the 2021 draft, Ziaire Williams (6’8”, 215 lbs) has averaged 7.5 points and two rebounds in about 22 minutes per game. The Stanford product will try his luck against RJ Barrett, who has averaged 26.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists in his last 10 games.
Watching RJ play in 2022 reminds me of when my eldest son’s voice dropped, and I realized he had taken a step forward into adulthood. Our Maple Mamba is not a kid anymore. The league is on notice.
Jaren Jackson, Jr. (6’11”, 242 lbs) has averaged 16.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks in his fourth season. The 22-year old Michigan State alum is a respectable defender (105.9 rating) and swats 2.2 blocks per outing (second in the league). When they met in February, he scored 26 points and 10 rebounds, none offensive. His counterpart Julius Randle logged an 18/12/9 slashline.
Pairing JJJ with Steven Adams (6’11”, 265 lbs) gives the Grizzlies fantastic rim protection. The big Kiwi leads his young squad with 9.8 rebounds per game. When he last tangled with Mitchell Robinson, the biggest Knick grabbed 14 points, 11 boards (seven offensive), and a ridiculous eight blocks.
Over his last four games—discounting the Kings’ game, from which he left early due to illness—Robinson has averaged 12.5 points, 11 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.8 steals, and only two personal fouls. His adversaries during that stretch included Joel Embiid, Ivica Zubac, and Deandre Ayton. If this is the new normal for Mitch, I apologize for previous slander and admit that the big fella deserves his payday.
The Knicks are 24-25 versus the Grizzlies all-time. A victory tonight would even out that record and prove definitively that the Knicks are serious about chasing a play-in spot. Considering how the Knicks have played recently, a win is very possible, especially if Mitch and Julius are in high gear. Memphis ain’t invincible, after all.
ESPN.com gives the Grizzlies a 71% chance, but New York will win in a shocker. Prediction: Knicks by 5.
FedEx Forum. Friday. 8:00 p.m. Barbeque ’em, Knickerbockers!