For what seems like the 100th time this season, the New York Knicks (25-20) are coming off of a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching defeat where they gave up a late lead due to missed free throws, a lack of offensive creativity, and fatigue. Tonight, they’ll host the Washington Wizards (18-26), who they beat last Friday, in an attempt to get back to their winning ways and hopefully do so more convincingly and easily than they have of late.
The Wizards have been longing for a long-term answer at the point guard position ever since Russell Westbrook was traded to the Lakers 18 months ago, and while they’ve yet to find a suitable answer, they have found their short-term solution in Monte Morris (6’2”, 183 lb.). The veteran point guard is as solid as they come and has, over the last four and a half seasons, been the definition of consistent with averages of 10.6 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.5 RPG and .9 SPG on 47.9% from the field and 39.3% from deep during that span.
He’ll have his hands full when he matches up with the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Jalen Brunson. The Knicks’ floor general is coming off an incredibly uncharacteristic game, one in which he was incredibly inefficient (needing 29 shots to get 26 points), not clutch, careless, and overaggressive. Brunson, a very poised, smart, and unselfish player, should bounce back tonight against what should be a bit of an easier matchup for him.
With the Wizards’ franchise player, Bradley Beal, still doubtful for tonight’s game with a hamstring ailment, sophomore wing, Corey Kispert (6’7”, 200 lb.) should continue to start. Kispert is currently averaging 9.6 PPG and 2.9 RPG on 41.1% from downtown and will be a player to watch as he could be a candidate to have a big game, given the Knicks’ tendency to allow role players to go bonkers from downtown.
Quentin Grimes will continue to slot in as the Knicks’ starting shooting guard and will be depended on to match Kispert’s prowess from downtown. Grimes is coming off of a solid game where he scored 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting while grabbing seven rebounds and continuing to play some incredible defense.
Kyle Kuzma (6’9”, 221 lb.) exploded for a very unexpected but convincing 40-point performance last Friday against the Knicks, He will look to do it again tonight at the Garden. The 27-year-old forward is enjoying the best career of his season, averaging 21.6 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 3.9 APG on 45.7% shooting from the field. With Beal out, the Wizards should continue to run their offense through Kuzma. But they’ll need him to bounce back from the 16-point, six-turnover lackluster performance he had against the Warriors on Monday.
Kuzma will matchup against RJ Barrett, who is coming off of a 32-point performance that included an emphatic dunk to send the game to overtime. The young wing is playing some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 23.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and three APG on 46.7% shooting from the field in his last 14 games. With how tired the Knicks, especially Brunson and Randle, have been looking at the end of games, they’ll need Barrett, who should be a bit fresher given the time he missed, to continue to be aggressive and produce at a high level.
Former Knick, Kristaps Porzingis (7’3”, 240 lb.) will help man the middle for the Wizards. The Latvian big man is having a resurgent year, one in which he has finally managed to stay healthy. Porzingis is currently averaging 22.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.5 BPG, and one SPG on 47.4% shooting from the field. With Beal’s absence, Porzingis, much like the aforementioned Kuzma, will have to be aggressive and effective for the Wizards to have a shot in this one.
His counterpart will be Kuzma’s former teammate, Julius Randle. Randle, who’s had an interesting relationship with the fans (much like Porzingis), has slowed down a little bit in the new year as he is shooting just 41.2% in his last eight games, but the big man is still averaging a very dominant 26.3 PPG and an astonishing 14.8 RPG. That said, he did shoot just 8-of-19 against Wizards on Friday and a subpar 7-of-20 against the Raptors on Monday. Look for him to be aggressive early on in what could be another masterclass first quarter for one of the league’s best early game scorers.
While Daniel Gafford (6’10”, 234 lb.) did not start the season as a starter, he should continue to be on as he has started each of the team’s last 12 games. The young athletic center is averaging 7.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, and 1.1 BPG on 75.1% shooting from the field.
Matching up against him will be Mitchell Robinson, who had just four points before fouling out after 28 minutes against the Wizards last Friday. Robinson had a nice bounce-back game on Monday against the Raptors, going for 11 points, eight rebounds, and one block. If the Knicks want to win this one and do so comfortably, they’ll need the best of Robinson to neutralize the height of Porzingis and the athleticism of Gafford.
The Knicks SHOULD win this game, but to be fair, the Knicks have lost a lot of games that they SHOULD have won. Even their wins are a lot closer than they SHOULD be. And I expect nothing different in this game. The Knicks SHOULD have a relatively easy time beating an 18-26 Wizards team at home, especially since they are currently 7-16 on the road and are without their best player, Bradley Beal. But we all know that it’s never that easy or simple with the Knickerbockers.
The Knicks have lost 11 games since Thanksgiving. This is how much they lost by in each game:— KnicksMuse (@KnicksMuse) January 17, 2023
vs POR: 3 (OT)
vs MEM: 4
vs MIL: 6
vs DAL: 21
vs TOR: 7
vs CHI: 1
vs PHI: 7
vs DAL: 5 (OT)
vs SAS: 7
vs MIL: 4
vs TOR: 2 (OT)
They’ll inevitably play well in the first half, led by Randle and Brunson, and then slowly let go of the rope in the fourth quarter as fatigue sets in. Everybody will panic and want to smash their TVs wondering why this team has to put their fans through so much pain, anxiety, and agony every game. But the Knicks will win find a way to win this game. Washington hasn’t necessarily been the best fourth-quarter team lately, as they’ve been an average -4.3 in the final period over their last three games (sixth worst in the league). And New York did manage to hold off the Wizards in Washington, even with Kuzma scoring 40 points. Randle, Brunson, and Barrett will have solid games, and New York will come away with a much-needed to win to keep sole possession of the sixth seed in the East.