The ‘Bockers are back in New York to rectify their bad play against even worse opponents Atlanta and Chicago.
The Knicks (12-13) return home Sunday looking to rebound one night after yet another stinging road loss, this time to the hapless Chicago Bulls (now 5-20). The last-minute defeat was defined by dismal firs quarter effort—continuing a troubling trend in road contests, in which the Knicks are just 1-8 on the season.
Fortunately, they get a chance to wash out the poor taste in their mouth against another Eastern Conference tanker, the Atlanta Hawks (6-19)—also on the second leg of a home-road back-to-back. The Knicks will also be seeking to avenge a 116-104 loss in Atlanta on November 24. Back-to-backs with a flight in the middle can be demanding, but all eyes will be on their effort level back at the Garden, where the Knicks are 11-5 on the season. Better effort should mean better defense, and that will be crucial after allowing six players on the league’s worst offense to score in double-figures on Saturday.
The Hawks have been playing slightly better lately (3-4 in their last seven), including Saturday night’s 117-110 win over Orlando. Still, this is a bottom-feeder in the East, and clearly a rebuilding team gunning for a top draft pick. Their recent uptick in play has been ignited by Dennis Schröder, who’s averaging 23 points per game during the stretch (20.5 points per game on the season).
Here are some other things to watch for on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET):
The Knicks are turning the ball over an alarming amount so far (16.2 per game), and many of their losses can be attributed to sloppiness controlling with the ball, and perhaps none more so than their first matchup with Atlanta, in which New York’s 20 turnovers led to 19 points for the Hawks. The Knicks outshot Atlanta from the field and the line in that game, so it’s fair to say turnovers were the primary determinate in the outcome.
In general, the Hawks rate towards the bottom in Defensive Rating (107.9), but sit top-five in steals and forcing turnovers, led by the feisty Kent Bazemore (sixth in steals). As long as the Knicks protect the rock better, they should be able to score effectively (despite the continuing absence of former-Hawk Tim Hardaway Jr.)
It’s been well–documented: the Knicks have struggled defending the three-point line this season, as they’re giving up the 3rd most triples in basketball. Thanks in part to steady ball and player movement—as per usual under head coach Mike Budenholzer—the Hawks rank fourth in three-point percentage, and will look to remain hot after a scorching 17–33 barrage vs. Orlando (Ersan Ilyasova was 5-of-5). On the other hand, the Knicks knocked down just 7-of-24 of their triple attempts in Chicago. They’ve been cold from downtown all season, shooting just 35.4 percent from deep, well below league-average. The Knicks’ incompetency on the perimeter—on both ends—is a major reason why they momentarily sit outside the playoff picture. Fortunately, the Hawks give up slightly more threes per game (12.1) than the Knicks (11.9).
The Knicks should have a distinct advantage inside. The Hawks strength is their backcourt, and their lack of interior talent is glaring. After a slow start on Saturday, Porzingis looked lively in the second half, sparking the Knicks comeback attempt before ultimately missing the buzzer-beater. Still, he’s the best player on the court in this game, and should be able to exploit the Hawks issues defending the post (they surrender 45 points in the paint per game) and the perimeter.
Enes Kanter, meanwhile, continues to clean up the glass, sitting second in the league in Offensive Rebound Percentage while pulling down 10.5 total boards per night. He should feast on the Hawks lack of rebounding presence. Atlanta’s top two rebounders, Dewayne Dedmon (7.8 RPG) and promising rookie John Collins (7.1 RPG) are both out with injuries, as perimeter-oriented Ilyasova (4.9 RPG) and Miles Plumlee (3.7 RPG) fill in. (Their leading rebounder on Sunday will be small forward Taurean Price at 5.2 RPG). Accordingly, the Hawks rank dead last in the league in Defensive Rebound Percentage. Surprisingly, the Knicks lost the rebounding battle (by two) in the first matchup—one that Kanter missed—so that can’t happen again.
Overall, the Knicks—like most teams—match up well with a shallow Atlanta squad, and the fact that both teams are on back-to-backs negates any disadvantages that the tricky scheduling could pose. In theory, an inspired, four-quarter effort and low-turnover performance should be enough for the Knicks to get back over the hump at .500.