Winners of three consecutive home games, the Knicks take their talents on the road to face Zion Williamson and the equally surging Pelicans.
The New York Knicks (28-27) will hit the road to play the New Orleans Pelicans (25-29) on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET, looking for their fourth consecutive win. This game comes after three of the biggest wins of the season for the Knicks, as they beat the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, and Los Angeles Lakers, all at home, to remain a top-eight seed in the Eastern Conference and within a half-game of the sixth seed.
The Knicks might be red-hot, but so are the Pelicans as they also come into this game on a three-game winning streak, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Sacramento Kings. The Pelicans are now only a game out of the 10th seed and play-in tournament in the Western Conference. This is the first meeting between New York and New Orleans this season, but they’ll meet twice in five days, as the Knicks and the Pelicans will play each other Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN.
New Orleans, coached by Stan Van Gundy, is an impressive offensive team, but it’s lacking on defense. The Pelicans rank eighth in the NBA in Offensive Rating at 114.3 and 27th in Defensive Rating at 114.8. For a Knicks team that ranks third in DefRtg at 107.4, they should be able well-equipped to at least slow down this New Orleans offense.
Let’s take a look at some storylines to watch for in this game.
As with any game against the Pelicans, the key will always be stopping Zion Williamson. The problem is that Williamson can’t be stopped, he could only be slowed down. In 15 games since the All-Star break, Williamson is averaging 29.7 points on 17.8 field-goal attempts per game, while shooting an astounding 63.3%. In these 15 games, the Pelicans are 9-6.
While the Knicks will certainly have trouble with Williamson (every team does), they at least have Julius Randle to guard him. Randle is as close to Williamson’s build as nearly anyone in the league, coming in at 6’8” and 250 pounds. Williamson is 6’7″ and 284 pounds, so while that’s usually a major mismatch against other teams, it isn’t as much against Randle.
What could be problematic for the Knicks is when Williamson gets to the rim, he’ll likely come into contact with Nerlens Noel, who’s only 220 pounds. at 6’11″. Williamson definitely has strength on Noel and could get the better of him when getting to the rim because of that. That being said, Noel has been extremely impressive on defense this season and ranks first in the NBA in defensive plus-minus, and second in the NBA in block percentage, per Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report.
Nerlens Noel ranks
1st in NBA in defensive plus-minus,
2nd in NBA in block % for the
3rd best defensive team in the NBA while earning
$5M on a one-year deal
Talk about this more
— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) April 13, 2021
Add this all to the fact that the Knicks rank highly in every single defensive statistic there is, and it just may be enough to slow down Williamson.
The Importance of the Long Ball Against New Orleans
As mentioned previously, the Pelicans are poor on defense. However, it isn’t their interior defense that’s a major problem, but rather their perimeter defense.
The Pelicans rank ninth in the NBA in opponent points in the paint per game. However, they rank last in the NBA in opponent threes made per game at 15.0. They also rank 27th in the NBA in opponent threes attempted per game at 38.3 and last in opponent three-point percentage at 39.0%.
With Steven Adams and Zion Williamson clogging the paint, no team wants to go inside against New Orleans, so they just exploit them from beyond the arc. While the Knicks rank 28th in the NBA in threes attempted per game at 29.4, they’re undoubtedly going to take more of them tonight. The Knicks do rank ninth in the NBA in team three-point percentage at 37.5%, so we’ll see if that continues as the volume likely goes up Wednesday.
Expect to see a ton of Julius Randle drives and kicks to open shooters in this game.
R.J. Barrett Bounce Back?
In the four games prior to the Lakers game on Monday night, R.J. Barrett was on fire. Over those four games, he averaged 22.5 points per game, shooting 59.6% from the field and 68.2% from three. On Monday, he had a poor shooting night going 2-of-11 from the field and only scoring seven points.
Barrett is due for a bounce-back game, and the Pelicans are certainly a good team to have that opportunity against. Expect Barrett to have several catch-and-shoot three-point opportunities in this game.
Additionally, Barrett and Williamson are former college teammates, as they both played at Duke in 2018–19. Those two will always be tied together, as they were the first and third overall picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.
The Knicks are fully healthy tonight minus Mitchell Robinson. For the Pelicans, Lonzo Ball is doubtful with left hip flexor soreness, while Nickeil Alexander-Walker is out with an ankle sprain and Josh Hart is out with a thumb injury, per the Pelicans.