After an exhilarating victory over the Celtics last night, the Knicks travel to Detroit to take on the Pistons.
Just one second, before we begin. Let’s all bask in His Glory once again.
Nothing but respect for MY president pic.twitter.com/zEqyH5oYfs
— Kyle S. Maggio (@MaggioNBA) December 22, 2017
The Walking Bucket was simply incredible last night, willing the Knicks to victory as Kristaps Porzingis went MIA. Michael Beasley led the Knicks with 32 points, inciting the Garden crowd and Twitter alike with his antics. Can he repeat his efforts tonight in Detroit? I say this with all the slowly-becoming-non-ironic love in the world for the Beas, but let’s hope that he doesn’t have to.
The Knicks (17-14) are 2-2 in the second half of back-to-backs, with this being their fifth such set of the year. The Pistons (17-14) have had a tumultuous December, dropping their first seven contests before going on to win their next three. Coming off a loss against the Mavericks in Dallas on Wednesday, the Pistons will look to end December on a high note. Here are some things to watch for:
On the Road Again
Four of New York’s next five games will be on the road. 17 of 22 will see them with wheels up. This is where their mettle will truly be tested.
The road struggles for the Knicks have been well-documented. They are 2-9 this year when traveling, with those two wins tied for the least amount of road wins this season with the Hornets and the Mavs. It’s been a rough go for New York outside of the Garden.
Knicks at home vs. Knicks on the road pic.twitter.com/OAHlya92xs
— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) December 22, 2017
This stretch is going to make or break the playoff hopes of this team. No one should expect them to beat Golden State or San Antonio (despite their weird recent run of success there), but the Knicks have shown a certain level of respectability this season. Winning road games against the Detroit’s and Dallas’s of the world are going to be the key of their success or failure.
Avery Bradley Down and Out
The Pistons have been without primary perimeter defender and second-leading scorer Avery Bradley for three games now, going 2-1 over those contests. Reggie Bullock, Luke Kennard, Anthony Tolliver, and old friend Langston Galloway have all assumed larger roles in Bradley’s stead. What do all of them have in common? Shooting from deep. What do the Knicks struggle to do? Defend the three ball. The Knicks allow the highest frequency of three-pointers in the NBA, per Cleaning the Glass, meaning any team that has shooters littering the roster should make Jeff Hornacek wary.
The Pistons rank right in the middle of the pack in terms of three-point frequency, but they make the most of those looks, knocking down 38 percent of their looks from downtown, which ranks seventh in the NBA. I’d keep an eye on Tolliver primarily, as he’s averaging 14.7 points on a scalding 63 percent from three since Bradley went down. He’s also only taken one shot over that stretch that wasn’t a three, so I don’t think anyone has ever accused the man of not knowing where his bread is buttered.
Just Your Average Joe, But With Jets
Detroit is average in just about every way. They are 14th in offensive efficiency and 14th in defensive efficiency. The Knicks aren’t too far off from being the perfect frame of mediocrity, ranking 10th in offense and 17th in defense. One area that the Pistons perform quite well in is transition scoring, checking in with the fourth-most points added per possession from transition opportunities. The Knicks have the second-worst transition defense in the NBA, so look for Stan Van Gundy to encourage Reggie Jackson and company to get out and run as often as they can.
Kristaps Bounce Back?
After a horrid performance against Boston, Kristaps Porzingis is hungry to get back out there tonight:
“Kobe says you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Today I missed all hundred. You can’t really play worse – shoot worse – than that. I’m looking forward to tomorrow night to bounce back.”
Whenever KP plays poorly, the injury concerns always sprout up. If Porzingis goes out tonight and looks spry against a team he dropped 33 points on earlier this season, those concerns will dissipate. He has a nice matchup tonight against Tobias Harris, who is smaller than most defenders KP sees. The Pistons may throw some different looks at him, flipping between Tolliver, Harris, and maybe even Stanley Johnson. The Knicks should strive to get Porzingis going early to set him up for success.
Eastern Conference Hierarchy
It’s only December 22nd, and the Knicks have plenty of games coming up that will be arguably more important, but this feels like a big one. The Pistons have lost eight of their last 11, and minus Avery Bradley, they’re undeniably shorthanded. They’ll be looking for a nice home win in this one. The tiers of the Eastern Conference could see a shift in the coming weeks, but for now, it looks like:
Clear Beasts of the East:
After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Between Detroit, New York, Miami, and Philadelphia, two are making the playoffs and two will be out. The Pistons looked like a mortal lock before December 1st, but as I mentioned before, this month has not treated them well. The Sixers have gone 2-8 in December with Joel Embiid missing some games. This is a wide open race for the “are they actually good or actually bad?” teams in the East.
The path to the playoffs is slowly peeking out of the fog for this Knicks team. These are the games they need to win if they want to grab the opportunity that’s staring them in the face.
Game time is 7 P.M. at Little Caesars Arena.
P.S. The last time these two played on October 21, we got our first true glimpse at our Lord of Buckets. Beasley played 18 minutes and scored six points.