The Knicks (28-25) will try to keep their winning going against a rolling Clippers (29-26) team at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
The Knicks will possibly get their starting point guard Jalen Brunson back, who was out on Thursday night with a non-Covid illness. If not, Immanuel Quickley will likely get the start again in his place. For the Clippers, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard will be seeking to get their chemistry even more on track in their 24th game together on the season.
Let’s look at some keys to the game for New York as they try and win two in a row at home.
Controlling the two-headed monster of Leonard and George
Leonard started his season off slowly as he continued to recover from various injuries, but has been slowly putting together some solid performances alongside the ever-reliable George this regular season. Amongst all two-man lineups that the Clippers have put together, Leonard and George have the best offensive rating at 119.3 and the third-best defensive rating at 107. Leonard is also averaging 21.6 points per game along with 6.3 rebounds and four assists, while George is putting up 23.1 points per game as well as 6.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists.
Luckily, the Knicks have a star tandem themselves in Julius Randle and Brunson. They have played 1,492 minutes together this season so far and have an offensive rating of 116.7. Their defense is a bit lacking – they have a rating of 118.1 – but they’ve been the most commanding tandem on the Knicks so far this season in the absence of Mitchell Robinson who gels with anyone who can pass into the paint on the team.
The Knicks will have to put a solid on-ball defender on Leonard if they wish to contain at least one part of that duo. We might be seeing a lot of Quentin Grimes on Leonard for this reason.
Keeping up with the Clippers’ versatility
The Clippers have a variety of lineups that they’ve unleashed onto the floor with injuries to Leonard, George, and other starting players. The Knicks, on the other hand, run a tight rotation that has kept the likes of Evan Fournier and Cam Reddish out of most games this season so far.
New York can play extremely good defense against teams when they want to – see any game they’ve played against the Cleveland Cavaliers this year – but they’ll need to keep it up while Ty Lue throws anything he can onto the floor to try and counteract the Knicks’ defense.
Locking up Ivica Zubac
In the absence of Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein has been more and more consistent as New York’s starting center. In his last five games, he is averaging eight points and 8.6 rebounds per game and is coming off what might be his best defensive performance of his year so far when he stole the ball late in the fourth against the Miami Heat on Thursday.
But, he is going to have his hands full with LA’s Zubac. He has been one of the best centers in the league this season, averaging 10.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, averaging a casual double-double. A battle between him and Robinson – both of which are very rebound-focused big men who can easily score in the paint if given the space – would have been glorious, but he and former teammate Hartenstein should still make for a good fight in the paint for rebounds and possessions.
The Knicks’ Jalen Brunson is still listed as questionable as of 10 A.M on Feb. 4 due to an illness. For the Clippers, their only injury to report is John Wall.
»Read: Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle Should Both Be All-Stars
»Read: The Knicks Trade Deadline Primer