The Knicks go back on the road, this time in Atlanta to play the underachieving Hawks guided by rookie sensation Trae Young.
Monday night was exhausting. For the players, they were on the second leg of a back-to-back. For the loyal spectators, we had to endure double OT (the game should’ve went to triple OT if we’re keeping it a buck) between two teams that are playing for ping pong balls over a playoff spot. It was the quintessential entertaining tank game.
Tonight’s showdown is no different, as the Knicks head to their home away from home, Atlanta. The Hawks, like the Knicks, are playing for 2019 and beyond. After watching Duke lay waste to the world last night, it’s easy to understand why teams are looking forward to the lottery. Despite their quest for Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish, both of these teams have their moments.
Trae Young in particular has found his footing and has started to run wild like he did at Oklahoma. He torched the Miami Heat with a monster 24-point, 15-assist game. He followed that up with another double-double (18 points, 10 assists) in a loss to the Hornets. Unfortunately for Young, he will be matched up with Frank Ntilikina. Last time they met, Frank helped corral the Rookie of the Year hopeful to 5-of-14 shooting, including 1-of-5 from three.
On the Knicks side of things, they get to introduce the Hawks to some new faces in the starting lineup. Damyean Dotson, who did not play opening night, has seen his status skyrocket since. Freed from the end of the bench, Dot’s addition to the starting lineup has been a breath of fresh air. He has scored 10 or more points every game he’s appeared in this season while also emerging as the second-best perimeter defender. He has filled the void left behind by Courtney Lee.
The other new face is Mitchell Robinson. Fizdale has opted to throw his promising rookie to the fire. The results have been predictably erratic. Robinson is coming off two meh games against the Wizards and Bulls, but he can make a highlight reel dunk or block in a New York minute. His best game came last Saturday against the Mavs where he racked up a career-high 10 boards to go along with 13 points and this masterpiece:
BIG MITCH ROBINSON pic.twitter.com/FtX2Rk9SfL
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) November 3, 2018
This game might be as hideous as the first half against the Bulls was, but there will be a lot of young talent on the floor. If the quality of play begins to make you queasy, just say “Barrett, Williamson, Reddish” out loud.
Youth isn’t the only thing to look out for tonight, so here are some other things to keep an eye on.
An interesting trend has taken place over the last two games. The Wizards and Bulls applied pressure on the ball and the Knicks responded with sloppy play. The Bulls in particular had an interesting strategy of doubling Allonzo Trier. Befuddled, Trier got off to his worst start of the season.
The pressure from the Bulls cut off any penetration on the Knicks’ side. Some of this had to do with Tim Hardaway Jr. not playing and Frank struggling, but there was a point where no one was in the paint for New York. They may luck out tonight against a fast-paced Hawks squad, who lead the league in pace, but it is something the coaching staff should focus on moving forward.
Another early trend of the season has been closing games, or a lack thereof. The Knicks are 0-4 in games decided by six points or fewer. The Daily News’ Stefan Bondy pointed out that the Knicks are getting outscored by 4.7 points in the fourth quarter. That is good for worst in the league but not completely unexpected from one of the youngest teams in the NBA.
They will certainly get an opportunity to improve those stats tonight in a winnable game. The major problems are execution and lack of a player who can get his shot when he needs it. In a close game against the Pacers, the team fumbled whatever play was called in the huddle, which led to a bad shot by Tim Hardaway Jr. Against the Bulls, the Knicks had a few chances to win the game but could not execute (e.g. Emmanuel Mudiay’s errant inbounds pass in OT). The Hawks have been feisty lately, so some in-game clutch reps would be much needed.
Spotlight: Frank Ntilikina
Frank Ntilikina has struggled his last two games, leaving seemingly half of the fanbase ready to send him to Westchester. He has shot 23 percent from the field in that span and a ghastly o-for-7 from three-point land. He still does not look confident on offense, particularly with his jump shot. On that pull up from the free throw line that he loves so much, you can see him hesitate at the peak of his release.
The remedy to a lack of confidence is strong play. Due to his offensive woes, Fizdale has had no choice but to play the hot hand over Ntilikina. Tonight, Frank can play to his strengths to stay on the floor. He will be matched up once again with Trae Young who can score in bunches. Stifling Young on one end could lead to the confidence boost needed on the other side of the ball. Patience is the key with Ntilikina, so a strong outing tonight would do wonders.
- Kevin Knox played just five minutes in his return Monday. Fizdale is likely easing his rookie back into the flow, meaning an increase in playing time tonight should be in order.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. is expected to return tonight. He was available to play Monday but with a banged up back it was better to play it safe. Hardaway will start for the Knicks, per Newsday‘s Steve Popper.
- Courtney Lee remains out with a bad neck but is inching closer to a return.