The Knicks continue to make the case for being one the most streaky teams in the league over the last month. We’ve now seen them win eight straight games then lose five straight and have now won two straight again. And tonight, they’ll have a chance to extend their winning streak to three at home against a Spurs team that handed them a very ugly loss less than week ago.
Jalen Brunson should be back out there for his second straight game since returning from a hip injury that kept him out for three games. In his first game back, Brunson got off to a slow start but finished the game strong in route to a 24 point, 6 assist, 4 rebound performance. And it was apparent just how important he is to this team as the offense looked a lot smoother. Averaging 20.3PPG, 6.5APG and 3.2RPG, Brunson will continue to be a key piece to this team going forward and they’ll be glad to have him in their rematch against the Spurs.
Tre Jones (6’1”, 185 lb.), who had a mediocre game in their last meeting, going for 13 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists on 5-13 from the field will start once again for San Antonio. The pesky and tough guard will have a tough matchup as he’ll be tasked with trying to slow down Brunson.
Immanuel Quickley, who exploded for 36 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in last week’s loss to San Antonio, should continue to get the start for the injured RJ Barrett. Quickley has been playing solid basketball since being inserted in to the starting lineup with averages of 22.8PPG, 5RPG and 8APG over his last four games and they’ll look for him to continue being the aggressive playmaking third option the team so desperately needs.
Devin Vassell (6’5”, 200 lb.) missed last week’s meeting between these two teams and is in danger of doing so once again tonight as he is currently listed as day-to-day. The third year wing is averaging a career-high 19.4PPG to go along with 4RPG and 3.6APG and has been amazing when he has played. But unfortunately for both him and the Spurs, he’s only managed to play in 29 of the Spurs’ 37 games this season. If he cannot go tonight, expect the Spurs to trot out Romeo Langford (6’4”, 216 lb.) as their starting shooting guard like they did last week. If that’s the case, keep an eye out for the young guard as he torched the Knicks for 23 points on 11-16 from the field last week.
Quentin Grimes struggled mightily against San Antonio last week going 1-10 for just 9 points. Tonight, he’ll look to get his revenge and build off of what has been a solid two -game stretch for him in which he has averaged 15.5PPG and 3.5APG on 54.2% from the field. San Antonio, with their pure size, strength and will, especially at their wing positions, dominated New York in their last meeting so it will be interesting to see how Grimes, who will have to play as an undersized small forward once again, deals with the tough matchups.
Keldon Johnson (6’5”, 220 lb.) got busy against the Knicks in their prior meeting, going off for a seemingly easy 30 point performance and then followed that performance up with another 30-point performance just two days later against the Dallas Mavericks. If the Knicks are to extend their winning streak to three, they’ll need to find a way to slow down the fourth year wing who is now averaging 21.5PPG, 4.9RPG and 2.8APG on 42.5% shooting from the field.
Julius Randle, who has been playing like a man possessed, will look to continue what has been the most impressive stretch of his career. Over this last 18 games, the veteran big man is averaging 28.2PPG, 11.2RPG, and 4.4APG on 47.1% shooting from the field and 36.1% shooting from 3. Even as someone who has been incredibly vocal and displeased with Randle’s play in the past, I can’t say that there is much to complain about with him as of late. Keep an eye on Randle, who is currently second in the league in first quarter points to be aggressive early once again.
Jeremy Sochan (6’9”, 230 lb.), who had his hands full guarding Randle (41 points in that game) last week will get a second try at the matchup. The rookie forward fouled out in just 27 minutes so it’ll be interesting if coach Popovich and the Spurs have made any adjustments.
Mitchell Robinson continues to be one of the most underappreciated big men in the league. His counting stats of 7.7PPG, 8.9RPG and 1.8BPG aren’t anything to be wowed by but if you watch the games, it is incredibly apparent just how important he is to this Knicks team. Whenever he isn’t in the game, the team looks completely different on the defensive end. Robinson followed up what an incredibly dominant performance against the Mavericks with a very quiet and uninspiring effort against San Antonio last week with a 0 point, 6 rebound performance in 28 minutes. If the Knicks want to protect the paint and stop the Spurs from imposing their will once again, they’ll need their center to be at his best.
Jakob Poeltl (7’1”, 245 lb.), much like Robinson, doesn’t have the stats to blow you away but is an extremely good basketball player. The veteran center is currently averaging 12.1PPG, 9.3RPG and 2.9APG on 64.6% from the field and had himself a solid game against New York last week with 9 points and 12 rebounds in just 29 minutes. With both the Spurs and Knicks electing to go big up front, the battle of the two traditional centers could prove to be important once again.
Last week’s loss to the Spurs was an ugly one. Coming off of a heart-breaking loss to the Mavericks in OT, the Knicks needed to pick up a win against a Spurs team that had the league’s worst +/-. But instead, they floundered and wasted a masterful performance by both Randle and Quickley in what was an incredibly disappointing and uninspiring effort. But it happens. Bad teams beat solid and even great teams. In the NBA, any team can beat anyone on any given night. Look at the Celtics Thunder game from last night. Even without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the 15-21 Thunder dominated the 26-11 Celtics.
But without a Knicks win tonight, last week’s loss to the Spurs looks a lot less like an anomaly and a lot more like a red flag. At home, with their starting point guard back, Thibs and co. must take care of business and make sure that they continue to beat teams that they are supposed to beat. And I fully expect them to do that. Look for New York to be led by Randle early as he looks to exploit a matchup he dominated easily last week with Brunson, Grimes and Quickley chipping in to support. While I still expect this to be a tough game given the size matchup of the wings, I have the Knicks winning this one 118-112.