The Knicks head to New Orleans for a matchup against Anthony Davis and the the Pelicans. Coming off back-to-back clunkers in which defense was a foreign concept, New York is playing the type of basketball sober-minded fans had in mind when the season kicked off.

Tonight’s opponent won’t be any easier. Anthony Davis is one of the five best players in the league and has a history of lighting up the Knicks. Last January he came to MSG and flayed the Knicks to the tune of 48 points, 17 rebounds, and three blocks—with Kristaps Porzingis in the lineup, however. There is no KP tonight, and possibly no Mitchell Robinson, who will be a game-time decision with a sore ankle.

David Fizdale will have to get creative if he wants to get his young squad off the schnide. Here’s what else to pay attention to for tonight.

Motivate the Troops

Welcome to the first rough stretch of the season. Given how young this team is, you can bet similar times await us. Fizdale knew exactly what he signed up for and is actively trying to boost morale. On Wednesday night in OKC the Knicks didn’t just lose, they visibly lose their fight—one of their positive early season traits.

Fizdale responded to the low morale in a unique way—bringing an ax to practice.

“My thing to these guys is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to chop down a big tree,” Fizdale told Newsday. “If you’re paying attention to if the tree is falling, you’re never going to get that tree down. We signed a covenant as a group, every guy. I said, ‘Hey, let’s make a commitment that no matter what happens that we stick together and we keep chopping this tree together.’

Can the tactic work? There’s no reason it can’t. Fiz has a group of grinders among his kids. Tonight will be a test of their morale, as this game could once again get out of hand with the firepower on the other side. Will they fold like in OKC and allow free access to the rim, or will they keep chopping until the final buzzer?

Elephant in the Room

One of the least surprising storylines of the early season has been a disgruntled Enes Kanter. Last year Kanter voiced his displeasure about tanking. The playoffs make his nipples hard, and the man enjoys his hard nipples. It has become clear that his thirst for the playoffs will not be quenched in New York.

Since his demotion to the bench, Kanter has been a bigger disaster than Thursday’s snowstorm in New York. He’s played like someone who is only looking out for himself, which goes against his typical brother-in-arms mentality. He rarely shares the ball with any player not named Mario. If he gets an offensive rebound, you can bet the house he will force an errant shot. Setting a pick has even become laborious for him. He is not the same Kanter he was when he was starting—maybe he is, and all the bad is being amplified.

Tonight he might be inserted back into the starting lineup if Robinson is unable to go. That would leave him with the responsibility of containing Anthony Davis. If he wants to prove his head is still here, Kanter will do everything in his power to contain AD and most importantly look out for his other teammates.

Starting Lineup Shuffle

The next iteration of Fizdale’s starting lineup did not get off to a great start. The addition of Kevin Knox and Emmanuel Mudiay and the demotion of Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson only opened the floodgates a little earlier. The way the played looks even worse when you realize the previous lineup featuring Frankie and Dot ranked seventh in net rating per

Fizdale has given no indication of whether or not the lineup tonight will be tweaked, but if Mitch is unable to go, then someone will have to replace him. Fizdale could go with Kanter, but the more interesting move would be to have Noah Vonleh at center. The Pelicans play pretty small, with AD at the 5 and Nikola Mirotic at the 4. Why not use this time to play Knox at the 4 and Dotson at the 3? Vonleh isn’t the best defender in the world, but in comparison to Enes Kanter, he’s Ben Wallace.

Spotlight: Kevin Knox

We’ve hit the ugly part of the season we all knew was coming. During tough times, it’s crucial to focus on development. For us, the fans, we get to put on our scouting hats and see what lineups the young guys can best succeed at.

Knox has been eased back into the flow, and you can see his rhythm improve with each game. He is a volume scorer, so it’s hard to get a read on him by looking at the box scores. His last three games are a nice example–he’s shot 34.2 percent from the field (35.8 percent from deep), but he is also averaging 14.7 points in that span. Depending on who he’s matched up with, those numbers could improve.

Tonight is a perfect opportunity to get Knox some reps at the 4. Wesley Johnson has the length to pester the neophyte, but Mirotic would be at a disadvantage. He’s a small-ball 4, so Knox would not have to get into a slug-fest down low. Another key thing Knox can improve at the 4 is pace. With two non-shooting bigs, the Knicks have been limited with the transition game. Add four ball handlers around one big, and all of a sudden you’re running up and down the floor.

To put a bow on this, Knox’s future on this team is as a 4, so why delay the inevitable? It’s time to ease the rookie into his future role.

Other Notes

  • Louisiana native Micthell Robinson is dealing with a sore ankle but will try and play tonight.
  • Courtney Lee remains out with that neck/chest injury.