Seven. That is the number of teams that currently hold a better record than the Knicks right now. That’s right, just seven. And that also happens to be the number that they can improve their current winning streak to tonight. New York, ever since shortening their rotation, has been one of the best teams in the league, and are poised to continue their current hot streak. Coming off of one of the most impressive wins of the season against an elite Boston Celtics team, the Knicks play host to the cross-town rival Nets in an attempt to distance themselves from both the Nets and the Heat (who play the Sixers tonight).
Since the All-Star break, Jalen Brunson has struggled a bit averaging just 16.7PPG on 33% from the field, 21.4% from 3, and 77.3% from the line. It has gone under the radar as if often the case when the team is winning but the team will eventually need him to pick it back up. In the Knicks’ last matchup against the Nets, Brunson torched Brooklyn for 40 points and 5 assists on 15-21 shooting so tonight might be the game he gets back on track.
He’ll be matched up with Spencer Dinwiddie (6’5”, 215 lb.), who was one of the only Nets to do anything noticeable the last time these two teams met up. Despite shooting an inefficient 8-21 from the field, the Nets’ point guard lead the team with 28 points. Dinwiddie told reporters after his last game against the Knicks that he was looking forward to facing off against them again so we should all expect Dinwiddie, who is averaging 23PPG and 8APG in his last two games, to come out aggressive.
Starting alongside Brunson in the backcourt will be Quentin Grimes as usual. The sophomore shooting guard has come out of the break shooting well from 3 but has seen his minutes and shot attempts decline since the addition of Josh Hart. Thankfully, the Knicks do not need him to be a huge scoring threat as long as he continues to defend and knock down threes when needed.
Joining Dinwiddie in the backcourt for the Nets will be Mikal Bridges (6’6”, 209 lb.). Despite struggling mightily and scoring just seven points against the Knicks a couple of weeks ago, Bridges is averaging 23.8PPG, 5.3RPG, and 3.2APG on an incredibly efficient 52.6% from the field and 46.9% from 3 in his six games as a Net. It’s unlikely that Bridges has another dud against the Knicks so they’ll have to be ready for him tonight.
RJ Barrett, who continues to both frustrate and excite Knicks fans on a nightly basis, will get the start. His first three games out of the All-Star break has been a kin to his entire season, inconsistent. There are moments where it looks like he’s back on track and ready to be that much needed third option that this team would greatly benefit from. Tough layups, step-back midrange shots, clutch playmaking, he really has shown some nice strides and flashes of being the post-All-Star-break Barrett that we’ve become accustomed to seeing. But too often, we’ve seen him struggle to stay efficient. As a whole, he’s been decent thanks to his noticeably improved defense, but with how good and consistent Randle, Brunson and even guys like Quickley and Hart have been, all eyes will continue to be on Barrett as the season goes on.
Facing off against the former Duke Blue Devil, RJ Barrett, will be former UNC Tar Heel, Cam Johnson (6’8”, 210 lb.). Johnson, who is currently averaging 16.7PPG, 3.8RPG, 1.5APG, and 1.8SPG as a Net, has been incredibly solid and consistent for Brooklyn. He has scored at least 10 points and has made at least two three-pointers in each of his six appearances.
Julius Randle, who is currently averaging an insane 25.1PPG, 10.5RPG, and 4.1APG, had his lowest scoring output (18 points) since January 20th against the Nets a couple weeks ago. With how good he has been as of late, it’s easy to see him get some revenge and explode like he so often has this season.
Starting at power forward for Brooklyn will be Brunson’s former teammate, Dorian Finney-Smith (6’7”, 220 lb.). Despite not being asked to be a consistent scorer or creator, Finney-Smith should play an important role tonight as one of the primary defenders on the aforementioned Randle.
Manning the middle once again for New York will be Mitchell Robinson and oh how nice it’s been to have him back. Hartenstein and Sims tried their darn hardest to replace Robinson but it was just different. With Robinson back, the offense and defense, both which were already trending up, has looked great, and it should only continue to get better as he improves his conditioning. Robinson could have a big game against a Brooklyn Nets team that is second to last in the league in team rebounds per game.
In what should be a crucial big man matchup down low, Robinson will be matching up with young Nets standout, Nic Claxton (6’11”, 215 lb.). The fourth year center is averaging a career-high 12.6PPG, 9RPG, and 2.6BPG while leading the league with a 71.4% field goal percentage. With the Knicks ranking 14th in the league in points in the paint, and both Randle and Robinson being good rebounders, Claxton will have his hands full tonight.
One of the things that separates the great teams from the good ones, is the ability to consistently win games that they are supposed to. The Knicks, despite being just one game ahead of the Nets, will be favored in tonight’s matchup, due to the Nets’ roster shakeup and the Knicks’ current six game winning streak. In a league where anyone can be or be beaten by anyone, it’s possible for a Knicks team coming off of a huge win, to let up a bit and struggle against a Nets team that has historically given the Knicks fits. That being said, I expect the Knicks to stay focused, keep up their winning ways on both sides of the ball, and take home a win. Bridges should be better than he was last time around, but so should Randle and we can’t forget that Robinson wasn’t available for their last meeting as well. It may not be pretty and it may not be as convincing as we’d all like, but the Knicks will tie the season series at two thanks to a big game from Brunson and the bench lead by Quickley and Hart. 118-110.