On Tuesday, I asked one simple question: can the Knicks get an easy, stress-free win? The answer was a resounding no as they struggled and barely came away with a victory against a Nets team that has simply been bad as of late. And it’s very unlikely that the Knicks can get one tonight as they host the defending champions, the Denver Nuggets. On paper, it does look like a reasonably even matchup.
The 31-14 Nuggets are 7-3 in their last 10 games and the 27-17 Knicks are 8-2 in their last 10 games, and both teams have been a bit more inconsistent and mediocre than their records suggest.
New York’s subpar performances have been well-documented as they’ve dropped games against a Luka Doncic-less Mavericks team, a Franz Wagner-less Magic team, and came way too close to dropping games against the Grizzlies, Wizards, and Nets. Meanwhile, Denver has recently dropped games against the Magic, and Jazz, two teams hovering around .500, while barely edging out the Warriors, and beating the Wizards by just nine in what was an even contest for the final three quarters.
That being said, Denver, despite their recent struggles, will likely be significant favorites in this matchup. The Nuggets have more impressive wins and less close calls as of late than the Knicks do, and have shown that they are capable of turning it on against anybody on any given night, evident by their overall record and recent win against the Boston Celtics, who are considered by many to be the best team in the league right now. Furthermore, New York will likely be without it’s standout center, Isaiah Hartenstein, who is currently listed as questionable with an achilles injury, making the near impossible task of stopping the Nuggets offense, lead by two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, even more difficult.
Knicks are listing Isaiah Hartenstein as questionable for tonight's game vs. DEN (*not Utah) due to left Achilles tendinopathy. Hartenstein was listed as questionable prior to NYK's win over BKN on Tuesday and did not play in that game.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) January 25, 2024
Denver’s offense (third-best offensive rating over their last 10 games) is firing on all cylinders right now with Jokic playing at a very high level like he usually does. The big man is averaging 27.8 PPG and 9.3 APG while shooting 70.9% from the field and 56.3% from three. But it doesn’t end there. Jamal Murray has been incredibly effective as of late as well, averaging 24.6 PPG, and 7.1 APG on 49.2% shooting from the field. And we can’t forget about Michael Porter Jr., and Aaron Gordon, who average 15.5 PPG, and 13.9 PPG respectively and have shown they are capable of scoring 20+ on any given night.
The Knicks do have a shot of coming away with a big win, though, if they can attack what has been a shaky and inconsistent Nuggets defense. Even though the Nuggets are 12th in defensive rating for the season, over their last 10 games, Denver ranks 22nd in defensive rating, with their starting lineup of Gordon, Porter Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jokic, and Murray all having a defensive rating of 117 of higher over their last 10 games.
The Knicks will need everyone to contribute and play an all-around good game to have a shot at defeating the Nuggets. Despite their recent shaky play, the Nuggets are the defending champions for a reason, and it starts with the reigning finals MVP. Jokic has been damn near impossible to stop and surrounding him are three players who have all been efficient as of late. If the Knicks can force some turnovers, which the Nuggets have been prone to committing lately, and take advantage of an uncharacteristically bad Nuggets defense, they may be able to score enough points to keep them in the game. Randle averaged 27 PPG in two games against the Nuggets last season so he is line to potentially have another good game tonight. That being said, it may come down to how Brunson. The Knicks’ starting point guard has been on a tear lately but only averaged 22.5 PPG against the Nuggets last season so he’ll likely need to surpass that by a significant margin to give New York a shot.
Overall though, it’s hard to see the Knicks coming away victorious in this one. Jokic will have plenty of options as the Knicks, much like the rest of the league, do not really have an answer for Jokic meaning they’ll have to live with him scoring an efficient 30+ points or they’ll have to double allowing for him to carve up the Knicks’ defense with his masterful passing. Between the Hartenstein injury, and the continued subpar play of the second unit, there’s just too much for the Knicks to overcome.
Knicks lose, 119-113.
Who: New York Knicks vs. Denver Nuggets
When: 7:30 pm EST, Thursday, January 25, 2024
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY