With Kristaps Porzingis expected to be back in the lineup, the Knicks hope to even their record against Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies.
Upon returning home, the Knicks (11-12) have some explaining to do. The team has dumped five of six, most recently a lifeless 18-point defeat in Indiana on Monday. Fortunately, they face a friendly upcoming schedule, beginning with Wednesday night’s match up against a struggling Memphis Grizzlies team.
Memphis, too, has suffered from injury woes, most significantly to Mike Conley, who remains out with lingering Achilles injury. The Grizz have dropped nine of 10, with the lone win coming Monday against a Timberwolves team playing their third game in four nights (which Thibs makes even tougher). It was their first win for interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff since the shocking firing of head coach David Fizdale. Memphis now sits at 8-15, and presents a prime opportunity for the Knicks to right the ship.
Things to Watch:
How Will KP Look?
Thank the Lord(zingis). New York has painfully struggled without their best offensive and defensive player, going winless in four games without KP this season. They’ve averaged just 99.5 points per game in those contests, as opposed to 104.4 when he plays a full game. He should be back to full-strength soon, but the Knicks are simply desperate for a positive night. Of course, KP’s effectiveness will be even more crucial without Hardaway Jr., so the status of his ankle could directly determine the outcome of the game.
Who Will Step Up in Tim Hardaway Jr.’s absence?
Even with Porzingis back in action, Timmy’s absence is worrisome, because the Knicks have shown almost no ability to function offensively without him, dropping both the games he’s missed. THJ has overcome an ice-cold start to average 19.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals, and 45% shooting over his last 17 games, and whether the Knicks supporting cast can handle the scoring burden in his wake is still to be determined.
Damyean Doctson has started the last two games at shooting guard, but the rookie second-round pick has scored just 11 total points (4-11 FG) in those contests. Michael Beasley will be expected to carry a load, but he’s reached 15 points only twice this year, and turned the ball over five times in Indiana.
Courtney Lee can provide some buckets from the wing, but he isn’t in his blood to be a naturally aggressive scorer. He’s posting a career-high in points per game this season, but it’s just 12.7, and he hasn’t shot the three enough despite solid numbers. The former Grizzly is a 39 percent career shooter from deep, and he’s draining 45 percent this season on 3.5 attempts per game. That’s the second most attempts on the roster after Tim (7.9), though Lee’s percentage is far better.
In general, the Knicks rank 28th in made 3’s (they were a chilly 6-23 on Monday), and everyone needs to shoot more. The Grizz rank towards in the middle in defensive rating (104.3) and three-point defense, so Lee and the bench mob (particularly Doug McDermott and Frank Ntilikina) should look to hoist.
Hardaway Jr. also provides a noticeable bounce and versatility that the Knicks simply cannot replicate, especially in transition—as witnessed Monday, when the team was outscored 31-5 in fast-break points. Memphis plays at the slowest pace in the league, but Hardaway Jr.’s absence could hamper the Knicks’ ability to take advantage in the open court.
Other Keys to the Match up:
The Grizzlies offense, once again, primarily operates inside the arc. They rank 28th in three-point percentage on just 26.9 attempts per game, which is a good thing for the Knicks, who surrender the third-most treys per game in basketball (12.1).
The Grizz should also pose a test for the Knicks interior defense. The Knicks have surprisingly fielded the league’s third-most effective paint defense, but visibly suffered without KP on Sunday and Monday. Memphis likes to feast inside, and rank fifth in percent points in the paint on the season. The Knicks are fourth-best in this department, though, meaning this game could certainly be decided down low.
On that note, the Knicks have pounded the offensive rebounds this year, and rank eighth in total boards, compared to the Grizz, who sit 28th in total rebounds. With KP back, the Knicks will have no excuse not to clean up the glass.
Grizzlies Players to Watch:
Marc Gasol is still a really good player, but he hasn’t quite been his usual self this season. He’s posting 19.0 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, but his eFG% sits at just 46.6, a result of his increased three-point total (4.2 attempts per game at 33 percent), and a troubling dip in two-point field goal percentage to 45.5, compared to his career rate of 50.2. As a result, his WS/48 is down to .081 from a career mark of .151. Enes Kanter was terrible on defense the last two games, though he has generally fared well on D in a Knicks uniform. Gasol’s shot selection has become fairly balanced these days, though the highest percentage of his looks (25.1 to be exact) come in the 3-10 foot range (per NBA.com), so Kanter will have his hands full all over the half-court. Fortunately for Enes, the absence of Conley should limit Memphis’ willingness to exploit him in pick and roll scenarios.
Like the Knicks, the Conley injury has severely depleted a team already shallow in scoring depth. Tyreke Evans has quietly had a nice bounce-back season (17.8 points, 4.1 assists, 5.0 rebounds, career-high 48.2 field goal percentage), but he’s inconsistent. JaMychal Green has gone for 16 and 14 points in his last two, though his shooting is erratic. The versatile 6’9″ power forward could pose a tricky match up challenge for a ginger Porzingis.
Either way, a thirsty Knicks team will get an energy boost from an impatient Garden crowd, and should have enough depth to overcome a reeling Memphis squad.
UPDATE: 5:49 p.m. EST.
Porzingis will indeed play tonight against Memphis, per Newsday‘s Al Iannazzone. He was previously listed as probable.