New York, who has had a pretty tough stretch of games in December, will have themselves another difficult test as they head to Oklahoma City to take on the 19-9 Thunder, who are in the midst of a surprising yet convincing strong start to the season.
Led by a young and exciting core, the Thunder have come out of the gates swinging, looking like one of the strongest teams in the league. And a lot of that can be credited to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is currently averaging 31 PPG, 6.4 APG, and 5.7 RPG on 54.2% shooting from the field, and has played himself into the MVP conversation. But, much like all of the great teams in the league, this team has multiple weapons and a variety of ways in which they can beat you.
Offensively, they rely on a lot of balance outside of Gilgeous-Alexander. Second-year man Jalen Williams is averaging 17.6 PPG, while rookie forward Chet Holmgren averages 17.3 PPG, and both Josh Giddey and Lu Dort chip in over 11 PPG as well. All of this has helped the Thunder become one of the best offenses in the league as they currently rank sixth in offensive rating. But it does not end there with the Thunder. In fact, their defense, which currently ranks sixth in the league in defensive rating, might be even more impressive and intimidating.
A big reason for that is the activity and length that they often play with. Going into tonight’s matchup, Oklahoma City ranks third in both steals per game and blocks per game, and, like the scoring, it’s being spearheaded by the two faces of the franchise, Gilgeous-Alexander and Holmgren. SGA, as he is so often referred to as, currently leads the league in steals per game with a whopping 2.8 SPG, while Holmgren ranks fourth in blocks per game with an impressive 2.7 BPG.
The Knicks are riding the highs of a Christmas day statement victory in front of a national audience, and they’re playing maybe the best they have all season. Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle are constantly scoring 25+ points, RJ Barrett is coming off of one of his best games of the season, Immanuel Quickley and Josh Hart continue to be incredibly productive off the bench, and Isaiah Hartenstein has been nothing short of incredible. That being said, it won’t be an easy task defeating the young up-and-coming Thunder at home.
To do so, they’ll have to do a few things. One, they have to take care of the basketball. The Thunder lead the league in transition points per game and they are a young and athletic team that likes to get up and down the floor. If Brunson, who is usually pretty good at taking care of the ball, and Randle, who can be turnover-prone, can limit their giveaways, it could go a long way in slowing down the Thunder offense.
Two, they have to be physical but do so smartly. Against rim protectors like Holmgren, you have to be the one to initiate the contact especially since the Thunder are on the second night of a back-to-back. But guys like Randle and Barrett cannot just blindly try to force their way into the paint. If they do Holmgren could have a field day swatting their shots left and right. Instead, they’ll have to make sure that they are patient in finding the right moments to attack and be aggressive.
Thirdly, the Knicks will have to win the three-point battle. The Thunder are very efficient from three, and like the Knicks, are top 15 in both threes made per game and three-point percentage. As if often the case in this league, the game could simply come down to who makes their threes and who doesn’t.
Oklahoma City Thunder
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander G
- Lu Dort G
- Josh Giddey F
- Jalen Williams F
- Chet Holmgren C
New York Knicks
- Jalen Brunson G
- Donte DiVincenzo G
- RJ Barrett F
- Julius Randle F
- Isaiah Hartenstein C
This is a tough one to call. The Thunder are 7-3 in their last 10 games and are 11-5 at home this year but are playing for the second consecutive night. The Knicks, despite being just 5-5 in their last 10 games, have been showing some signs of life after convincing wins against the Suns, Lakers, Nets, and Bucks of late, and have a winning record of 9-8 on the road. The easy and probably smart bet would be to go with the Thunder. Their win last night over the Timberwolves was somewhat easy and with them being a young team, playing two consecutive nights shouldn’t matter as much. On top of that, the Thunder are simply just a very good team right now.
That being said, the Knicks seem to be clicking also and I do think that they match up somewhat well against the Thunder. Nobody on the Knicks will indeed be stopping Gilgeous-Alexander, but you can make the same argument that nobody on the Thunder can match up with Brunson. Factor in Randle, who’s better than any second option that Thunder can throw, and the X-factors of Barrett, Quickley, and Hart, who are all coming off great games, and the Knicks have a decent shot at stealing a road victory to add to their resume.
I think both Gilgeous-Alexander and Brunson go off in what should be an incredibly fun guard matchup. The game will most likely come down to how the Knicks can attack Holmgren with their physicality and if the Thunder can force enough turnovers. With the Knicks averaging the sixth least turnovers per game, I think they can neutralize the Thunder’s transition offense just enough to come away with a gritty victory. 120-115 Knicks.
Who: New York Knicks at Oklahoma City Thunder
When: 8:00 pm EST, Wednesday, Dec. 27
Where: Paycom Center, Oklahoma City, OK
Watch: MSG Network, Bally Sports OK