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Game Preview: Knicks vs. Hornets-03/30/22

IQ might start as New York seeks to extend its winning streak.

NBA: New York Knicks at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks (34-42) are finally coming together, about a month-ish too late. They’re 9-6 over their last 15 games and have the league’s sixth-best net rating (5.9) over that span. Currently, the Knicks are surfing on a four-win wave, a streak in which they have bested two first-place teams (Miami, Chicago) and the Charlotte Hornets (39-37), who buzz into Madison Square Garden tonight for a rematch.

With six games remaining, the Knicks sit 4.5 games back from the 10th place Hawks and the final play-in spot. The odds of our heroes reaching the playoffs are about the same as me being signed as their next starting point guard. (But think it over, Leon, I’m cheap.)

The Hornets, however, are a half-game ahead of Atlanta and, barring catastrophe, headed for the post-season. They are 7-3 over their last 10 games. Their loss to New York was a 121-106 spanking in which RJ Barrett scored 30 points for the victors. LaMelo Ball countered with 32 points, nine boards, and five dishes. The Knicks’ largest lead was 20 points, and the Hornets never got ahead. Dude, it was glorious.

The twist in tonight’s storyline is that Evan Fournier is questionable for tonight (personal reasons) and Quentin Grimes (knee soreness) will be out, which opens the door for Immanuel Quickley to start. Hallelujah, amen.

Will the Knicks suffer the sting of Hornet vengeance? Not a chance. Tip-off’s at 7:30 p.m., pollinators.

PROJECTED STARTERS

Sophomore LaMelo Ball (6’7”, 180 lbs) has averaged 20 points, 7.4 assists, and 6.8 rebounds in 69 games this season. The 20-year old point guard attempts 7.5 threes per contest and makes 38% of them. In his last game against New York, Ball shot 13-for-23 (56.5%) from the floor, 6-for-14 (42.9%) from the perimeter.

Terry Rozier (6’1”, 190 lbs) is Charlotte’s third-highest scorer with 19.5 ppg. The Louisville product collected 18 points last week against the Knicks on 6-for-16 (38%) shooting. For the Knicks, Fournier, who averages two assists per game, logged a season-high seven dimes when the teams last clashed but is questionable for tonight’s tilt. Hence, rising star Immanuel Quickley might join the first five, which would be sophomore’s third start of the year.

So, here we go fans. Many of us wanted to see Quick run the point in these final games. Cross your fingers and get your popcorn ready.

In his fourth NBA campaign, Miles Bridges (6’6”, 225 lbs) has averaged 20.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The 23-year old shoots 49% from the floor and 32% from deep. He tallied 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 assists last Wednesday. In the same game, his counterpart, RJ Barrett, shot a very respectable 10-for-19 (52.6%) and 3-for-7 (42.9%) from threeville. That was RJ’s 11th 30+ game this season. He achieved but one last year.

P.J. Washington (6’7”, 230 lbs) has averaged 10.2 points and 5.3 boards this season. The Kentucky product will square off against fellow former Wildcat, Julius Randle, who missed their Wednesday contest due to a sore quad. In his stead, Obi Toppin handled himself admirably, finishing with 18 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, one steal, one block, and a +19.

Mason Plumlee (6’11”, 254 lbs) scored seven points and nine rebounds last Wednesday against Jericho Sims, starting in place of an injured Mitchell Robinson. The rookie logged 10 points and three rebounds in 26 minutes and shot 5-for-5. Look for Mitch to start tonight. He has averaged 12.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in five games versus Plumlee.

PREDICTION

Recently, New York has tantalized with many positives. Their offense has finally started to gel with the empowerment of younger players who play with ferocity and velocity. New York is the league’s fourth-best offensive rebounding team. Since January 1, they have had the 11th-ranked defense. It’s tempting to wonder what this squad could have done if things had broken sooner (RJ turning a corner; IQ stepping forward; Obi, Grimes, and Sims playing more; etc.) and what they could have done in the post-season. Anyone want to write that alt-reality fan fiction?

ESPN.com gives New York a 58% edge over Charlotte. For last week’s contest, the percentages were reversed. What a difference a week and a season-high win streak make. Prediction: Kicks by six.

The Mecca. 7:30 p.m. Go, Knickerbockers!