Losers of five straight games, the Knicks try to regroup with a matinee matchup against the COVID-stricken Celtics in Boston.

The New York Knicks (5-8) will get another chance to end their losing streak, which currently sits at five, as they face the Boston Celtics (8-3) up in Beantown. The midday matinee—1:00 p.m. ET start time from the TD Garden—should be a welcomed change of pace for a Knicks team that would look for any voodoo at this point to get back in the win column.

The Celtics are dealing with some hardships themselves, although it is not basketball-related. COVID-19 protocols have led to some cancellations. Prior to their Friday night win over the Orlando Magic, the Celtics had last played on January 8th. Jaylen Brown, Daniel Theis, Semi Ojeleye, and Javonte Green were able to return Friday, but the team will remain without two key players: Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams.

Tom Thibodeau’s team should not expect an easy day at the office without Tatum, Williams, or Kemba Walker not playing (UPDATE: The Celtics just announced Walker is active for the first time this season). The Brown-led Celtics were good enough to beat up the Magic. 

Here are some key things to watch for.

What’s the Point?

Elfrid Payton continues to draw starts and produce very little. In Friday night’s game against the Cavs, Payton failed to log a single assist in 20 minutes. Couple that with Immanuel Quickley once again having a strong night off the bench—23 points, five rebounds, and four assists in 28 minutes—and there really is no excuse for Payton to remain a starter.

The word meritocracy has been thrown around about Thibodeau, however, the evidence to support that is absent. The starting lineup has only been tweaked when injuries interfered, which begs the question, what is Thibodeau waiting for?

Beyond Quickley there is Dennis Smith Jr. collecting dust on the bench, Austin Rivers, and Jared Harper who can at least get some minutes. Last season Payton’s lack of scoring was forgiven because he was doing a solid job as a facilitator. Right now he is doing neither and should not be on the floor nearly as much as he currently is.

Not to beat a dead horse, but Quickley deserves at least one start to see how he fares. Beyond the raw numbers over his past two games, Quickley’s game is noticeably ready for the NBA. There will be peaks and valleys as there are with any rookie, but the mere presence of Quickley opens up the floor for the rest of the guys.

Offensive Punch

In addition to Quickley, Thibodeau needs to make a couple other changes. It has become quite obvious that Julius Randle has bore too much of the offensive scoring load in recent games.

Adding Quickley to the starting unit would be a step in the right direction as would getting Kevin Knox some more minutes. Knox is rapidly developing into a corner specialist this season, connecting on 60.9% of his corner three attempts, per NBA.com.

The success from the corners has shifted Knox’s whole demeanor. A confident Knox can further help alleviate the congested halfcourt Randle and R.J. Barrett are experiencing with Payton and Reggie Bullock.

Open the Rotation

Thibodeau has kept his rotations tight early in the season. With injuries to Burks, Obi Toppin, Rivers, Quickley the condensed rotation was excusable. Five losses in, the decision to not give more people an opportunity does not make much sense.

Injury Report

After a small scare, Mitchell Robinson will be alright. Robinson and backup Nerlens Noel are both probable for Sunday. Robinson is dealing with a contused right heel suffered on Friday night and Noel is nursing a sore lower back.

Alec Burks is on track to miss his 11th straight game as he is listed as doubtful with a left ankle sprain. Frank Ntilikina will add to his personal streak of missed games as he is listed as out with a right knee sprain, marking his 10th straight absence.

UPDATE: 10:51 a.m. ET.

The Celtics announced that Kemba Walker will make his 2020–21 season debut against the Knicks today, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps.

 

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