Led by hometown kid RJ Barrett, the COVID-impacted Knicks visit the Raptors to round out and avoid an even 2-2 on their four-game road trip.

They say styles make fights, only this is not what the New York Knicks (17-19) have in mind. The Knicks will be in the Six to face the Toronto Raptors (15-17), who ended their 2021 on the winning side, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers at home.

The Knicks will be down considerable manpower, with their starting frontcourt out in health and safety protocols and their point guard dealing with knee soreness. That will put the onus on the kids, led by RJ Barrett. 

The third-year wing will have to do more than put on a good homecoming show; Barrett will be relied on to do a bit of everything without Randle, but he should get some help from Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin. The trio is the Knicks’ best chance to get past a team that gives them fits even at full strength.

Led by Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, the Raptors are long, play defense, and can catch fire from deep. That versatility is a large reason the Raptors have taken the first two games of this season series.

If the Knicks are going to flip the script they are going to have to score a lot more than the 80 points they mustered on New Year’s Eve. Here is what else to look out for ahead of this afternoon tilt in the Atlantic Division.

Pandemic Daze

This one will feel like an early-season matchup from last season, and not for the reason you are thinking. Due to the omicron variant putting up Wilt Chamberlain numbers over the holiday season, Scotiabank Arena will be fan-less for the next three weeks.

The Raptors kicked off the three-week stretch off with a win versus the Los Angeles Clippers on New Year’s Eve. Even better news, rookie Scottie Barnes, after missing the past three games with knee tendinitis, returns to the hardwood. Barnes will add even more length to unbalance the height scales even more.

Start IQ

Miles “Deuce” McBride got the starting nod with Kemba Walker missing New Year’s Eve with knee soreness. As exciting as it sounded, it may not have been the smartest decision. Immanuel Quickley deserved to get the bump, and McBride should have been elevated to fill in for Quickley with the bench mob.

That mistake cannot be repeated today. Arguably, no one has more knowledge of everyone else on the team more than Quickley. He is one of the few guys on the roster who can say he has shared decent court time with everyone, especially alongside Obi Toppin.

Toppin also saw his first career start in OKC but did not get to share the floor with the person who seems to know him best. Given the Knicks’ need for a scoring punch, Tom Thibodeau would be wise to run Quickley and Toppin with RJ Barrett, Taj Gibson, and Evan Fournier or Quentin Grimes. 

A slow start to this game could snowball into a very long four quarters.

Barrett Back on Track?

As a team, the Knicks were pretty tough to watch on offense last game. RJ Barrett was the rare exception. Barrett’s outside shot was off, just like everybody else rocking orange and blue. The difference is Barrett did not just continue to helplessly hoist away from deep.

Barrett instead attacked the basket to put together his strongest driving performance since coming off the COVID list, scoring 26 points on the night, with a large chunk coming at the rim.

The Knicks will need Barrett to carry a similar scoring load and take on a more involved role on the glass. Without Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel, and Jericho Sims, it is likely that Barrett will see some time at the 4.

The Infirmary

It was too good to be true. The Knicks had just reached near-full strength before Randle found himself on the health and safety list. He was joined Saturday by his frontcourt partner, Mitchell Robinson.

As a whole, here is who else will not suit up for the afternoon matchup:

Health and Safety Protocols

  • Julius Randle
  • Mitchell Robinson
  • Nerlens Noel
  • Jericho Sims
  • Wayne Selden Jr.

Injury Report

  • Kemba Walker (knee)
  • Danuel House Jr. (finger)

Evan Fournier remains questionable with a nagging ankle injury.

Tip-off is at 3:30 p.m. ET from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, broadcast on MSG Network and TSN.

 

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