The Knicks are in Big D to face Junior D, Dennis Smith Jr., in an anticipated matchup between the two points, Smith and Ntilikina, drafted no.’s 9 and 8, respectively, in last year’s draft.
After yet another rough loss, this time to the injury-ridden Heat, the Knicks (18–21) have dropped to the tenth spot in the East. Now two games out of the playoff picture, New York heads to Dallas to face the Western Conference basement-dwelling Mavericks (13–27) on their road-heavy slate of January games.
The Knicks simply played an ugly game last time out in Miami, struggling to stop their opponent from getting whatever they want on offense, as well as running an ugly offense consisting mostly of ISO’s for Porzingis or Beasley. New York has now dropped three in a row and will look toward tonight’s game against one of the league’s worst squads to finally pick up a much-needed win.
Here’s a few things to watch for in tonight’s game against apathetic Mavs.
Frankie Smokes vs. DSJ
In the most anticipated matchup of the game, the two point guards selected back-to-back in the 2017 draft will finally go up against each other. Frank Ntilikina, known for his defensive skill set, will match up with Dennis Smith Jr., the athletic phenom out of NC State. The guards’ contrasting games go starkly against each other, and it’ll be interesting to see which one guard gets the better of the other.
One thing that may get in the way of matchup at point guard is Coach Hornacek’s rotations, which have come into question throughout the season. Frank’s poor play of late (he put up only two points in 25 minutes against Miami on Friday) may also factor in to how much playing time he gets tonight, but he likely won’t be too limited. As Knicks fans know so well, the team’s playmaker depth is painfully weak, so Ntilikina will certainly be needed tonight.
Ever since New York lost Tim Hardaway Jr. to injury, the Knicks had some serious struggles on offense. Throughout his young career, Porzingis has always had someone alongside him that could get the ball and create a shot when the team needed a bucket. In the last two years it was Carmelo Anthony, and this season it had been Timmy. While he’s not the most consistent, Hardaway Jr. can flat out score at times and was a great second option to have behind KP for when he was tired, cold, or on the bench.
Now, with Timmy out of the lineup, Kristaps has been thrust into the role of someone expected to create his own shot nearly every time down the floor, and that is not someone he can be just yet. KP is visibly fatigued, and the Knicks aren’t going to pick up wins with a fatigued superstar.
This compilation of New York’s offensive possessions down the stretch of the Heat game gives a glimpse into how unproductive this team can be when their number one option is tired and their number two option is hurt:
Knicks' possessions over the last 4 mins of this game. Feel like there's a pattern here. pic.twitter.com/oTt3lIZYQP
— Chris Herring (@Herring_NBA) January 6, 2018
If something’s going to change on offense for the Knicks, it has to start with coaching. KP can’t get the ball at the elbow every possession and be expected to just score. The duo of Ntilikina and Porzingis has been one of New York’s most efficient, so why not throw them out there together more often?
The Knicks continue to drop out of the Eastern Conference playoff race, however, with six of their next eight games against non-playoff teams, albeit many away from the home haven of the Garden, they could put together a stretch that propels them back into postseason contention and generally positive vibes that have dissipated during the cold streak. While this season looks to be increasingly headed toward a tank, a few wins in the upcoming games and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s return could be exactly what this team needs to get back to the playoff team it appeared to be much earlier in the season.
Tip-off for tonight’s match-up is set for 7:00 p.m. EST. Watch out for former Knick Derek Harper’s jersey retirement before the game. #OAKAAK