Can Frank hold his own again while Hornacek’s confidence for Mudiay fades? Knicks take on the playoff position-fighting Wizards, who are without their ace-in-the-hole John Wall.
The New York Knicks (26–47) take on the Washington Wizards (40–32), losers of two consecutive games, in D.C. on Sunday evening for their third and final meeting this season. In the two teams’ prior matchup, in February, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. got their fair share of points, but Tim Hardaway Jr. had a spectacular first half as well, finishing with 37 points before the Wiz staged a massive comeback, defeating the ‘Bockers at dawn of the All-Star break.
Since then, though, the Knicks have gone through a few changes in the rotation. The Wizards are still without All-Star point guard John Wall and have had an up-and-down March as opposed to the Knicks who have only tallied two wins thus far.
Still, as the front office has noted, the Knicks’ record won’t be the focus for the remainder of the year. Rather, player development is the central figure to look for. So, let’s look at the key matchups in this contest:
Hardaway Jr. vs. Porter Jr.
Tim Hardaway Jr. has played the 3, small forward or some form of the wing, for most of the season. The three-guard lineup hasn’t worked out recently and Hardaway Jr. has been streaky at best. Porter Jr. is no slouch on defense, and Beal himself is far superior than Hardaway Jr. on that end of the court. Hardaway has averaged more than 21 points in just over 30 minutes in his last five games, although only shooting 43.4 percent from the field (per NBA Stats). For the Knicks to win on Sunday, they’ll need their temporary (until Porzingis is back from his injury next season) top gun to light up the scoreboard and, crucially, push the ball in transition, chasing Wizards into fatigue.
Porter, solid on defense, too, is averaging a career-high 14.8 points per game in the 2017–18 season. And more eye-popping is Porter’s efficient three-point shooting: 42.8 percent on 4.1 attempts per game (via Basketball-Reference).
Beal, meanwhile, is scoring slightly more than Hardaway in the same stretch but at a way higher efficiency; Bradley’s shooting 53.5 percent from the floor while assisting on 5.2 made buckets per game.
Mudiay vs. Satoransky
Satoransky put on a passing clinic in their last meeting, partially due to Jarrett Jack, but Emmanuel Mudiay owns his share of the blame. Since Mudiay now starts, his primary goal is to make sure the 2nd year player doesn’t repeat. Satoransky is a bigger guard, but if Mudiay can deny his passing lanes and force him to take bad shots, he may have a shot at getting the best of him on the offensive end if his teammates can come up with steals and rebounds to let him thrive in transition offense.
Ntilikina vs. Everybody
Frank Ntilikina is known for his defense, that’s never been in question, but when will he be able to defend all three perimeter positions like he will be expected to? Right now, Ntilikina is a bit light to put it nicely. Despite his limitations, he’ll need to be aggressive and unafraid on defense if he hopes to contain his man. Since he’s back to coming off the bench, he’ll be guarding Ramon Sessions—coincidentally New York’s starting point guard for their first three games in 2017–18—and Kelly Oubre Jr. at the onset of checking in, but expect to see him covering for his weaker brethren in the Knicks guard corps as the game wears on. He’ll be squaring up against Beal, Satoransky, Porter Jr. Plus, with the possibility of Emmanuel sitting out due to ankle troubles (or benching), Frank could see more court time again, like his career-high 37 minutes on Friday. On offense, if Ntilikina stays aggressive by using screens to get open looks for him and his teammates and cuts to get to the hoop, he could outplay both Sessions and Oubre Jr. on both sides of the ball.
G Leaguers: Williams, Kornet, and Hicks
With Troy Williams no longer playing for his job, but his fellow teammates on two-way contracts that could not be renewed next season, they have their work cut out for them. If Luke Kornet can get his shot going on the outside, keeping Marcin Gortat away from the paint, he’ll have done his job as Giant Eagle—brand Kristaps Porzingis. Isaiah Hicks may have to play bully ball, denying Gortat, or Ian Mahinmi the ball in the paint and capitalizing on rebounds if he hopes to save his spot.
Tip-off is set for the earlier 6:00 p.m. EST start in the District of Columbia.
UPDATE: 5:13 p.m. EST.
Ntilikina will make another start, except with Trey Burke in the backcourt with him:
Tonight’s starters. Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr, Michael Beasley and Enes Kanter
— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) March 25, 2018