For their first contest of the new year, the New York Knicks (19-18) will host the injury-depleted Phoenix Suns (20-17) in a Monday afternoon game. The Suns will be without Devin Booker and Cameron Johnson, while Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet are regarded as probable. Payne lit up the Knicks for 21 points, seven boards, and nine dimes in their last meeting, so here’s hoping that his sore foot is not game-worthy just yet.
Both teams are 1-4 over their last five outings. The Suns have the league’s third-ranked offense, which drops off a tad without Booker’s 27 points per game. This will mark the second occasion for these teams to battle this season, with the Suns winning their last encounter 116-95 in November. Phoenix has a 6-12 record on the road and went 4-6 over their last ten contests.
This season, the Knicks have yet to win a game that started before 5 p.m.—and yet your faithful blogger, still picking confetti from his hair, has an irrationally good feeling about their chances. Tip-off’s at 3:00 p.m., matinee fans.
Chris Paul (6’0”, 175 lb.) has played 18 seasons in the NBA and has finally started to show his age. The 37-year-old, 12-time All-Star is averaging 13 points per game and 10.3 field goal attempts, which are the lowest marks of his career, but still rings up nine dimes at a time. His 42% shooting from the floor is a career-low, but he’s been better than usual from deep, where he’s sinking 38% on 4.3 attempts. If Jalen Brunson can’t yet play, Deuce McBride should have quite a learning experience against the hall-of-famer.
Quentin Grimes availed himself admirably before his hometown crowd in the Knicks’ New Year’s Eve victory over the Houston Rockets. That was a good bounce-back performance after a sub-par showing in San Antonio. The sophomore has averaged 15.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in his last five games, and with the Suns shorthanded he’ll likely face Josh Okogie (6’4”, 213 lb.) today.
Mikal Bridges (6’6”, 209 lb.), in his fifth season out of Villanova, has averaged 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and three assists. The 3&D man with the 7’1” wingspan is always a handful. He’ll pair up with Immanuel Quickley, starting again while RJ Barrett continues to mend a lacerated finger. IQ has packed the last five box scores, averaging 20.4 points and 6.6 assists in 35.4 minutes, and the Knicks will require both his offensive and defensive acumen today.
Torrey Craig (6’7”, 221 lb.) has averaged 8.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. The 32-year-old journeyman will bump against Julius Randle, who was hellfire unleashed in December. He has averaged 19.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 14 games versus Craig and should get buckets aplenty again today.
Deandre Ayton (6’11”, 250 lb.) has averaged 17.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, and a little under a block a game this season. To deal with missing players, Monty Williams has experimented with his line-ups, including starting Jock Landale (6’11”, 256 lb.) alongside Ayton in recent games to give the Suns a twin-tower frontcourt. Whatever Monty schemes up, Mitchell Robinson should have a busy afternoon.
ESPN.com gives New York a 59.5% edge in this one. Sure, the Suns won their last meeting, but they’re about to play a different Knicks team, and I expect a different outcome. The Knicks have been fairly flatulent at home with a stinky 8-10 record. A win on their own turf to start the year will sustain us true believers for at least another week. Knicks by five.
Madison Square Garden. Monday. 3:00 p.m. EST. Go Knicks!