After ending a three-game losing streak, the Knicks have to prepare for the onslaught of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the tough Clippers.

The New York Knicks’ resounding victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers broke a three-game losing streak, bringing their record to 9-11. Through the ups and downs, it’s still refreshing to see a team that isn’t already out of the playoff picture. It took last year’s team 33 games to match the 2020–21 squad’s win total, which is the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed roughly a quarter of the way through the season.

Friday night’s win was a breath of fresh air that followed an embarrassing loss to one of the best teams in the league. New York will have another shot at a heavyweight, the Los Angles Clippers (15-5), but this time with more favorable conditions—at home and following a win. The game tips off at 1 p.m. ET.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who are each averaging at least 24 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game on 50/40/90 shooting, lead the way for L.A. The star duo missed a pair of games due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols but returned last game to lead a 26-point victory over the Orlando Magic.

New addition Serge Ibaka is third on the Clippers in scoring at 12.3 points per game, and he leads the team in rebounding with 6.9 boards a game. Fellow free-agent signee Nicolas Batum has been a steady glue guy with his shooting and playmaking from the wing. The Clippers boast plenty of other solid support pieces in former Knick Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac, Luke Kennard, and Lou Williams, even though the three-time Sixth Man of the Year has been ineffective so far this season. Patrick Beverley is still around but is out for this game with a knee injury, per ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk.

Thanks to a bevy of shooters around them—seven of the nine players with the most minutes per game are shooting over 40% on threes, and the other two are shooting at least 36%—the Clippers are collectively shooting 41.4% from beyond the arc. No other team shoots over 40% from deep, and the Clippers’ marksmanship has helped them post the third-best Offensive Rating in the league. Los Angeles also has the eighth-best Defensive Rating in the league.

Immanuel Quickley: still balling out

Tom Thibodeau’s penchant for veterans becomes more aggravating with every Immanuel Quickley masterpiece and/or Elfrid Payton stinker. As Payton scored just two points on 1-of-6 shooting last game, Quickley exploded for 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting, including 5-for-8 on triples.

The calls for Quickley to take the starting role from Payton grow louder by the second. Still, Thibodeau remains unmoved by the pleas. He said at Friday’s post-game press conference that Quickley would still have a significant role, but that he is mostly focused on finding the best lineups. Even if IQ never claims the starting role this season, his ability to light it up makes him one of New York’s most impactful guards.

Quickley, the 25th selection in the last draft, has emerged as one of the best rookies in the league this season. Despite playing fewer than 20 minutes per game, he’s averaging the fourth-most points per game in the rookie class. He leads rookie guards in free throw attempts per game, leads the entire class in made free throws per game, and ranks tied-for-fifth in triples per game.

Immanuel Quickley, Knicks, NBA rookie scoring

via NBA.com

Quickley’s role as a spark plug off the bench has served him more than well so far. Facing first units would likely cause his numbers to dip, but his shot creation skills and playmaking would benefit the starting lineup well.

R.J. Barrett aka Mr. January

R.J. Barrett is about to wrap up his best calendar month as a professional. The second-year swingman didn’t post the gaudiest of overall numbers, but he played the best and most consistent ball to date to open 2o21.

Barrett’s Net Rating of 5.3 through January was second on the team—behind only, surprisingly, Reggie Bullock. January was the first month that Barrett posted a positive NetRtg in his short career. He averaged 18.5 points while shooting 44.8% from the field, 35.7% from beyond the arc, and 74.3% from the free throw line, as well as 6.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

Those averages are made even more impressive considering a cold stretch Barrett found himself in near the beginning of the month. Following that four-game shooting slump, Barrett’s next nine games were terrific; he averaged 19.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists on 50/46.7/83.3 shooting splits. Along the way, he dropped a career-high 28 points in a victory against the Warriors.

Barrett’s stellar month will conclude with a tough test, as Leonard and George are All-Defensive Team caliber defenders and Ibaka and Zubac are stifling rim protectors. The challenge is made tougher considering that Barrett will likely spend considerable time guarding Leonard and George, who are dangerous scorers from all over the floor. Tough matchups like this are litmus tests for budding franchise players. A strong game from Barrett would make his stock as New York’s most important cornerstone soar higher.

UPDATE: 12:52 p.m. ET.

Nerlens Noel is out for the Knicks with a sore left groin, per the team, and Clippers forward Nicolas Batum is out with Patrick Patterson starting in his stead, per ClutchPoints’ Tomer Azarly. Reggie Bullock is back from a neck injury and starting along with the usual four.

 

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