On Friday, the Knicks bring their Circle the Drain tour to Phoenix. The Suns are 8-2 in their last 10 and lead the entire NBA by seven games. The Suns have the league’s best net rating (+7.8) and are ninth in pace. The Knicks, 1-9 in their last 10, are 16th in defense, 24th in offense, and 28th in pace. Very much North Pole, South Pole.
Back in November, Phoenix beat the Knicks 119-97 for their 15th straight win. Remember win streaks, Knicks faithful? Those were exciting. That November game got gross in the second quarter when New York logged only 17 points, and they died slowly from there. Kemba Walker scored 17 for the hometown squad. Devin Booker dropped 32 for Los Soles.
You might think that without Booker (health and safety protocols) and Chris Paul (broken thumb), Phoenix is vulnerable, but cool your jets. Cameron Johnson and Deandre Ayton had no trouble crushing the Trailblazers 120-90 on Wednesday.
Could romance be in the air for the Knickerbockers? Tip-off’s at 10 p.m. EST, lovebirds.
Chris Paul’s understudy Cameron Payne (6’1”) gets to start with the Point Gawd sidelined. Cam has averaged 10.3 points and 3.7 assists in 20.4 minutes per game during his seventh NBA campaign. He will square off against…I don’t even want to talk about it. Play Deuce McBride, Thibs.
With Booker in h&s protocols, Landry Shamet (6’4”, 190 lbs) will start at shooting guard for Phoenix. The 24-year old Wichita State alum has averaged 7.4 points as a reserve this season. Against him, let’s see if Evan Fournier will scrape together more than the three points he managed against the Sixers on Wednesday.
Villanova’s own Mikal Bridges (6’6”, 209 lbs) is an iron man who has played 2,156 minutes this season, the third-most in the league. The 25-year old is averaging 13.4 points and 4.3 boards in his fourth year. He ranks in the 89 percentile for TS% and shoots 54% from the field, 36% from deep (on 3.8 attempts per game).
Mikal’s counterpart, RJ Barrett continued his outstanding play on Wednesday and finished with a 30/6/7 slashline. Star-J is averaging 2.7 assists on the season, but 3.5 in his last 10 games, and 4.6 in his last five. The increase in playmaking is just as noteworthy as the scoring bump (25.1 ppg in his last 10 outings).
Journeyman Jae Crowder (6’6”, 235 lbs) has spent a decade in the league and played for seven teams. With Phoenix this season, he has averaged 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in about 28 minutes per game. He sports a nice 104.2 defensive rating. In 12 games versus Julius Randle, Jae averaged 14.7 points and 3.6 boards.
After scoring 28 points or more for seven straight games, Julius has averaged 17 points in his last three. How he and the emergent RJ can (or can’t) co-exist will be an ongoing storyline for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Randle’s backup, Obi Toppin, might miss the game on his 24th birthday. That sucks!
Obi Toppin has a strained left hamstring and is questionable for tonight in Phoenix, Knicks say.— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) March 4, 2022
Deandre Ayton (6’11”, 250) leads his team with a 65% eFG and 10 boards and is second in their points per game with 16.5. In his fourth season, the 23-year old Bahamian has a sturdy 103.3 defensive rating and uses his 7’6” wingspan to swat about one block per game. Mitchell Robinson will be relieved to be done with Joel Embiid, but Ayton is no slouch either.
In Play the Kids news: over the last five games, Jericho Sims has averaged 14.6 minutes and five rebounds as the first center off the bench. He played better than expected against Embiid—made some rookie mistakes, but he demonstrated great feet and verticality. He is too timid on offense, though. I swear I remember seeing Sims hit a hook shot once. If he shows some scoring ability, that might affect off-season business (looking at you, Mitch).
What are the odds that Phoenix fans will, in a generous act of sympathy, chant “Turn Deuce Loose!” on our behalf? Hear our plea, Suns ticket holders.
Altogether, the Suns and Knicks have played 133 regular-season games against each other. Phoenix has won 69 times. The league’s top team is sure to drive another nail into the orange and blue coffin tonight, but, boy, doesn’t Arizona have nice weather this time of year? Soak it up, gents. It stimulates an amorous mood.
Prediction: Knicks by -10.
The Footprint Center. Friday. 10 p.m. EST on ESPN and MSG. Screen the Suns, Knickerbockers!