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Preview of the Knicks’ week, Jan. 7-13

One at home against Portland and two road games–Dallas, Memphis–-but no back-to-backs

New York Knicks v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

The New York Knicks (21-15) are undefeated in the OG Anunoby Era. Since the 3&D wing arrived via trade last weekend, New York has beaten two top teams (Timberwolves, 76ers), one middle-lower team (Bulls), and one cellar dweller (Wizards). We’ve seen plenty of evidence why last year’s steals champion was named to the 2022-23 All-Defensive team (second), and surprising effects have occurred since Anunoby’s arrival.

For one thing, everyone is playing better defense. That includes Julius Randle, who has been caught lollygagging at times. Is the renewed effort in protecting New York’s side of the court due to assignments being more clear, or that one player needs less help, or that laziness now would be embarrassing? Who can say. Maybe it’s a bit of all three.

Regardless, OG has improved the team. Their offense flows more effortlessly, too. While the newcomer is still getting acclimated, he has mostly run cuts, spotted up in the corners, and cleaned up at the rim. With RJ Barrett, the team endeavored to incorporate RJ into their offensive scheme, but he was an inconsistent ball-stopper who slowed the game. Without Barrett, the ball zips from man to man in search of an open shot, and the team plays with a faster pace. (No numbers to provide here, folks, just opinions based on the old eyeballs.) As has been observed in the comments section, this turnaround seems a case of addition by subtraction.

Can New York win out the week to make their OG record 7-0? Perhaps, but there’s a certain Slovenian on the path who has given us fits before. Here’s the schedule.

Knicks vs Trail Blazers, 7:30 PM EST, Tuesday, January 9, 2024

The Portland Trail Blazers (9-25), long accustomed to being buyers, are now expected to be sellers during the current trade window. They are on their way toward a lottery pick, but no one is drooling over the 2024 NBA Draft class.

Portland’s main trade chips are Malcolm Brogdon, Matisse Thybulle, and Jerami Grant. Known for his defense, Thybulle has enhanced his offensive repertoire and could be a player of interest for the Knicks. Meanwhile, Anfernee Simons has stepped into the spotlight as the Blazers’ offensive leader—for better or worse—averaging 27.1 points. At 24, he’s taken on a leadership role while the team struggles.

There are other talents to build upon in the Pacific Northwest. The seventh pick in the 2022 draft, sophomore Shaedon Sharpe has averaged 16.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and three assists this season. And rookie (third pick) Scoot Henderson has averaged 12.4 points, 5.1 assists and 2.9 rebounds. After a rocky start to the season, reports are that Henderson improved of late.

The Blazers rate at the bottom of the league for offense (28th) and are bottom-third defenders. The Knicks are favored to defeat them for good reason. Avoid the trap!

Knicks at Mavericks, 8:30 PM EST, Thursday, January 11, 2024

Once again, Luka Dončić is spearheading the Dallas Mavericks’ charge with stellar stats, averaging 33.7 points, 9.3 assists, and 8.3 rebounds per game. The Mavericks (21-15) are starting to find an identity around Luka, Kyrie Irving, Dante Exum, and rookie Dereck Lively II. Irving, contributing 22.9 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.7 rebounds in 20 games, adds firepower to the team.

Since the start of the season, Dallas has improved on defense and are now ranked 17th. In particular, Lively, the 7-foot-1 center, has surpassed expectations with 8.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. Exum, initially signed with minimal expectations, has proven to be a valuable ball handler, which is especially necessary when the oft-absent Irving is your lead PG. (Kyrie has missed 16 games and counting this season.)

Who can forget the last time the Knicks played Dallas, in a stunning loss on December 27, 2022? Despite holding a nine-point lead with a mere 33 seconds remaining in regulation, the short-handed Knicks couldn’t secure the victory in Texas. Luka’s strategically bricked free throw, followed by a rebound and score, forced the game into overtime, and he concluded with a triple-double of 60 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists.

No arguments here, Luka is must-watch. This time, however, I’ll bet the Knicks get their revenge. Dallas-native Julius Randle likes to put on a show for his hometown crowd. Expect him to pack the statsheet.

Knicks at Grizzlies, 8:00 PM EST, Saturday, January 13, 2024

Currently languishing in the 13th seed of the Western Conference with an underwhelming 12-23 record, the Memphis Grizzlies face an uphill battle for relevance. They played their first 25 games of the season without the suspended All-Star Ja Morant, and it showed.

In his nine games back, Ja Morant has averaged 25.1 points, 8.1 assists, and 5.6 rebounds. Shooting guard Desmond Bane is averaging 24.5 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.5 rebounds and has been a linchpin for the Bears. Jaren Jackson Jr., with his impressive averages of 21.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks, lends some muscle. Bismack Biyombo and Marcus Smart round out their starting five.

Memphis is carried by its defense, which rates in the top ten. Their offense has been the problem. In the current campaign, they find themselves attempting the fifth-most three-pointers but hitting rock bottom with the league’s worst completion percentage (33.8%). Look for their scoring numbers to improve with Morant back in uniform.

The New York Knicks couldn’t pull off a win against the Memphis Grizzlies, 127 to 123, on November 27, 2022. Saturday’s game will be the first meeting between the clubs this season. Their record notwithstanding, the Grizz can be a feisty adversary. The Knicks will need to be in top form to beat them.

Enjoy your week. And go Knicks!