Fresh off of a long overdue win against the Brooklyn Nets, the 32-27 Knicks head to Atlanta to take on the 29-29 Hawks in what will be the fourth and final matchup of the season between the two teams. Despite being a non-nationally-televised game in February, this contest will be a rather critical one for a few reasons. Not only do the Knicks and Hawks have a budding rivalry brewing, the seventh seed Knicks are currently looking to climb the standings in an attempt to avoid a play-in game. A win tonight will not only help them achieve that, but it will help them distance themselves from the Hawks who are right behind them as the eighth seed. And on top of all of that, tonight will be the last game before the All-Star break and nobody, not the players, the coaches or the fans, want to head into the break on a loss.
Trae Young (6’1”, 164 lb.) is having himself another monster offensive season averaging 26.9 PPG and 10.2 APG but he’s struggled mightily from 3, shooting just 32.6% from beyond the arc. Furthermore, Young, in the three games against the Knicks this season, is averaging just 21 PPG on an abysmal 39.7% from the field and an even worse 16.7% from 3. Not very good for the self-proclaimed “King of Broadway.”
Jalen Brunson, who has been on quite the hot streak, will start at the one as usual. Brunson, is coming off of a 40-point masterpiece in Monday’s win over the Nets, and is currently averaging 23.9 PPG, 6.2 APG, and 3.5 RPG on 48.5% shooting from the field and 41.7% from 3. That being said, he is only averaging 15.7 PPG against the Hawks this season as he has been defended by defensive standout, Dejounte Murray a lot. The good news for the New York, is that Brunson has recently been better against the lengthy and bigger defenders that Murray resembles. The Knicks, who have been heavily reliant on Brunson’s shot creation and shot making, will look for him to keep that and his hot shooting alive tonight.
And speaking of Murray (6’4”, 180 lb.), he’ll get the start alongside Young. Murray is averaging 21 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 6.1 APG on 46.5% shooting from the field and has quietly put together another very solid campaign. While his backcourt mate has struggled against the Knicks this season, Murray has been exceptional averaging 26 PPG and 7 APG on 53.8% shooting from the field. If the Knicks want to come away with the victory, they’ll likely need to figure how to contain the former Spur.
Starting across from Murray will be sophomore guard, Quentin Grimes. The Knicks shooting guard will have his hands full guarding Young and Murray tonight but he’ll also need to step up his shooting. Over his last three games, Grimes is shooting just 5-15 from the field and 2-10 from 3.
De’Andre Hunter (6’8”, 225 lb.) is listed as day-to-day but if he is available, he should get the start. The former number four pick is coming off of two great games in which he scored 21 and 24 points against the Hornets and Spurs respectively. The fourth year wing is currently averaging 15.8 PPG, and 4.4 RPG.
Hunter will be matched up against fellow draft class mate, RJ Barrett. Barrett is in the midst of a dreadful slump in which he has averaged just 14.4 PPG on 34.2% shooting over his last five games. It had gotten so bad that even during and after the feel-good win over the crosstown rival Nets, a lot of the talk surrounding the Knicks was about Barrett and his horrid play. With Brunson expected to get a lot of the defensive attention tonight, the Knicks will need Barrett to bounce back in a big way.
John Collins (6’9”, 235 lb.), who surprisingly survived the trade deadline and somehow remains a Hawk yet again, will lineup as the power forward for Atlanta if he is able to shed his day-to-day status and suit up. The sixth year man is currently averaging 13.3 PPG and 7.2 RPG, both of which are his lowest averages since his rookie season. In his two games against New York this season, Collins is averaging 14.5 PPG and 11 RPG.
Matching up against him will be All-Star forward, Julius Randle. The big man has been playing some of the best basketball of his career and it’s not just with the scoring and rebounding. Randle has done an outstanding job of making quick and decisive decisions as of late and it has helped lead to some great looks for his teammates. Randle did struggle a bit from the field against Brooklyn but scored 31 and 30 before that. Look for him to come out aggressive as he so often does in the first quarter in an attempt to get himself in a rhythm.
Clint Capela (6’10”, 240 lb.) will anchor the middle as usual for the Hawks. The veteran big man, who is currently averaging 12.2 PPG and 11.4 RPG, is coming off of a big 22-point, seven-rebound game against the Hornets. New York will have to make sure they rebound as a team to make sure that he doesn’t give his team extra chances.
With Mitchell Robinson still out, Jericho Sims will continue to get the start. While Sims hasn’t put up any eye-popping numbers, the sophomore center has been very solid. The Knicks will need him at his best against the two headed monster that is Young and Murray, both of whom can put a lot of pressure on the paint, and the aforementioned Capela being the constant offensive rebound threat that he is.
Hopefully the Knicks can build off of their last win and come out confident while playing with some urgency. As stated earlier, a win on the road against a Hawks team that is on the tails of the Knicks right before the All-Star break could end up being a big one. Expect the Hawks to hound Brunson with Murray’s length leading to big game for Randle with Barrett, and Grimes, along with the bench unit lead by Immanuel Quickley and Josh Hart to come through. Knicks win a close high-scoring match, 125-121.