The Knicks match up on the road with one of the most intimidating backcourts in Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and the Rockets on Monday.

The New York Knicks (17-39) will take on the Houston Rockets (36-20) Monday night at the Toyota Center. Tip is at 8 p.m. ET.

While the Knicks are coming off a 106-98 Friday night loss to the Indiana Pacers, the Rockets will carry the momentum of a three-game winning streak, dating back to before the All-Star break.

The Rockets are the anti-Knicks in every way possible. As an analytically driven team, Houston has led the NBA in three-point attempts per game every season since 2016–17. This season, the Rockets are attempting 44.0 triples per game while the Knicks shoot only 29.3, good for 28th in the NBA.

Considering the Knicks rank 29th in the NBA in opponent three-point percentage at 38.4%, this is a matchup nightmare for them.

This isn’t even taking into account that the Rockets have the best backcourt in the game in James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Harden leads the NBA in scoring with 35.2 points per game. Westbrook averages 27.2 points a contest, too—not too bad for a second scoring option.

In addition to the Rockets’ three-point driven offense, Daryl Morey took the next analytical step at the trade deadline by trading Clint Capela for Robert Covington and adopting small ball for the rest of the season. P.J. Tucker, who’s listed at 6-foot-5, is starting at center.

Since this trade, former Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni and his Houston Rockets are 4-2.

As you would expect, this small-ball offense comes at a fast pace, as the Rockets rank second in the NBA in pace. With the current talent level on this Knicks team, it’s going to take more than the Rockets shooting poorly for them to win this game. However, this will be a good test for the Knicks’ young core and it will be interesting to see how they fair against Houston.

Here are two things to look out for in the first meeting between the Knicks and Rockets this season.

R.J. Barrett More Involved

R.J. Barrett is averaging 12.8 shot attempts on the season. In the first seven games of the season, arguably when Barrett was playing some of his best basketball of the year, he averaged 16.1 shot attempts per game. From the eighth game of the season to the All-Star break, Barrett only averaged 12.0 shot attempts per game.

In Friday’s game against the Pacers, Barrett took 19 shots, something he’s done only three other times this season. Additionally, his efficiency wasn’t bad either; he made eight of those 19 shots and scored 17 points. The big flaw in this performance was that he shot 0-for-5 from beyond the arc and 1-of-3 from the line.

However, is an expanded role in the offense something we’ll begin to see the rest of the season for Barrett? I’d think so.

With only 26 games left in the season, it would be wise to get Barrett more comfortable in the Knicks offense. These final games need to be used to prioritize the development of young players. There’s no reason that veterans should be getting offensive priority over Barrett at all.

Barrett’s shot attempts are certainly a number to keep an eye on Monday night.

Frank Ntilikina’s Minutes

Frank Ntilikina led the Knicks in minutes in Friday night’s game with 32. That’s a sentence I certainly thought I’d never write, but it’s about time.

Not only did Ntilikina get the most minutes and start, but he played well! Ntilikina had 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting and 2-for-4 from beyond the arc.

It’s definitely true that Ntilikina’s minutes were a direct result of Elfrid Payton being out with an ankle injury. However, Ntilikina and Barrett played well together down the stretch.

Starting Ntilikina over Payton should be given heavy consideration even if Payton is healthy. If Payton does start, there’s no reason why Ntilikina shouldn’t see close to 30 minutes in every game for the rest of the season.

Injuries

Ironically, Frank Ntilikina is questionable for Monday’s game with a sore groin, according to the team. Elfrid Payton is also questionable with a sore right ankle. This likely means we’ll see a lot of Dennis Smith Jr. versus the Rockets unless both Ntilikina and Payton play. Smith played 16 minutes on Friday.

Mitchell Robinson is also questionable with a sprained left ankle. Robinson had eight points and eight rebounds to go along with four blocks in just 17 minutes versus the Pacers last game.

UPDATE: 12:53 p.m. ET.

Frank Ntilikina is out tonight against Houston while Elfrid Payton is questionable, per Newsday‘s Steve Popper.

 

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