Today marks the second and final match-up between the two clubs. Back in November, the Knicks squeaked past the Nuggets, 106-103. With the league’s third-best record, Denver sits grandly atop the Western Conference. Their offense ranks second overall, and their defense is 16th, but lately they have stumbled, going 5-5 over their last 10 games and suffering a recent four-game losing streak.
Finally getting (and deserving) respect from the league, New York has won seven of its last ten and should have a healthy Jalen Brunson, who missed the last 5.5 games due to foot soreness.
This will be another significant game for our heroes, as the Nuggets are true contenders for the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Knicks’ lousy matinee record plus the mere existence of Nikola Jokić is enough to instill doubt, but Uncle Russell says don’t sweat it. Tip-off’s at 1:00 p.m.
Jalen Brunson is listed as doubtful for the game. He dropped 21 points and added five rebounds and seven assists versus Jamal Murray (6’3”, 215 lb) in their last game, on November 16. Murray has averaged 19.9 points, six assists, and four rebounds in 56 games this season. He’s a scorer and playmaker, but a bit of a sieve on the other end.
Quentin Grimes has been in a sort of funk lately. A Sophomore Slump, if you will. In his first 35 games of the season, the young guard averaged 10.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and two assists while shooting 45% from the field and 37% from deep. In 34 games since January 1, however, his numbers have dipped to 9.7 points, three rebounds, and 1.8 assists, and his shooting has declined, too (34% 3P%). When Josh Hart joined the team 14 games ago, QDot’s minutes were immediately reduced by ten per game. That might have affected both his psyche and his rhythm. Here’s hoping he returns to early-season form as the team heads into the Playoffs.
Starting at shooting guard for Denver will be ten-year vet Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (6’5”, 204 lb). KVC has averaged 11.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in his first season with Denver. He’s drilling 44% of his threes and taking 4.2 per contest.
Over his last five games, RJ Barrett has averaged 23.0 points and five rebounds. He performed well against Portland in New York’s final West Coast game of the regular season. Encouraging stuff from the once and future StarJ. Today he’ll have his hands full with Michael Porter Jr. (6’10”, 218 lb). MPJ is a skilled shooter who sinks 41% of his 7.1 three-point attempts. His seven-foot wingspan is impressive, but he is given to defensive lapses, so RJ should work him this afternoon.
Julius Randle has averaged 17.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 13 games versus Aaron Gordon (6’8”, 235 lb) in his career, including one triple-double and five double-doubles. Julius will be busy today, facing Gordon and helping out with Nikola Jokić.
In the League Leaderboard section of the Nugget’s Basketball-Reference page, Jokić appears as a top-five player in 23 categories (or more, I stopped counting). That includes first for Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares (regular and Offensive), Value Over Replacement, Triple-Doubles, etc. The two-time league MVP is a casual juggernaut, a destroyer of worlds who always looks like he’s mulling his dinner plans while eviscerating opponents. Denver is mid at best without him. Good luck, Mitchell Robinson.
ESPN.com picks the Knicks to win this one, with 59% odds. What’s your level of faith? All games will be important as they try to secure the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed, but this contest feels even weightier—a win over the Best of the West would inflate the team’s confidence, while a bad loss could deflate it. The Knicks had a few days to return from their road trip and rest, so they should be recharged and determined. With a fresh can of optimism juice in hand, I pick them to win by two in a thriller.
Madison Square Garden. NYC. Saturday. 1:00 p.m. EST. Go Knicks!