Toronto’s crafty backcourt has stymied New York in the past. Can these new Knicks earn a W in Canada?
This week has been a litmus test for the Knicks. On Monday, we found out if they can hang with the big boys. They forced LeBron James and the Cavaliers to take them serious but proved they’re not at that level yet. On Wednesday, we saw how they responded to Monday’s crushing loss by cracking down on defense when it mattered most.
Instead of rolling over they engineered a comeback win of their own against the Jazz. Getting that win proved these are not the same old Knicks. Past Knicks teams roll over after that Cavs game. This team stood firm and won a winnable home game against the depleted Jazz team.
To round out the week, the Knicks travel up to Toronto for a divisional match up against the Raptors. Don’t look now, but the Atlantic division is the best in basketball. At 9-5 the Raptors sit in second place behind the surging Celtics. The Raptors enter Friday night as the second highest scoring team in the league, averaging 111.4 points per game. Toronto is also third in the league in field-goal percentage at 48.2 percent clip. That means the Knicks defense, which has looked suspect this week—most notably surrendering 43 fourth quarter points to the Cavs Monday—and their job will not get any easier.
After this game we figure to have a general understanding of where to peg this squad within the Eastern Conference. Are they a legitimate playoff team or just a fun young team that’s just happy to be here? We get that part of that answer tonight but first let’s break down tonight’s contest.
Let the Kid Play
Jarrett Jack has played admirably as the starting point guard. But now his watch has ended…or at least it should end. Frank Ntilikina was eased into the flow of the NBA game, but I think he is ready to have a little more on his plate. His defense is already at the level where he can be trusted to guard the opposing team’s best player. His offense has been another story.
Too often it looks like he second guesses himself when he is about to shoot. The good news is he is starting to drive to the basket. Even with limited offense Frank is much better suited to player with the starters. Tim Hardaway Jr., Porzingis, and Courtney Lee already take up enough shots. Hornacek gave Frank the whole fourth quarter last game and he handled it just fine. The growing pains will still be there but it’s become clear that you can throw Frankie into the fire.
No need to panic, but Kristaps Porzingis is starting to come back down to earth just a bit. After averaging 30.4 points on 51.3 percent shooting (41.1 percent from three) through the first 12 games, KP has struggled this week. He is still hitting the 20-point mark but his field-goal percentage dipped to 37.5 and three-point down to 33.3 percent. Does this have to do with his elbow? Maybe. Still, I do not think it is something to be too concerned about.
Tonight he draws Serge Ibaka, who can be a pest on defense or a traffic cone with no in between. Whether KP gets the good Ibaka or not, pay attention to what he does if his shot isn’t falling. His shot was off last game, but he still protected the rim (two blocks) and made it his business to get to the line. KP has to keep doing that and try to looking for the open man, especially on double teams.
Match up of the Night: Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. DeMar DeRozan
Let’s give Shimmy Timmy his due. He has done a phenomenal job shutting up his detractors. Timmy has been the polar opposite of Porzingis thus far this season. Through his first 12 games he was shooting poorly, 39.7 percent from the field and 29.0 percent from three. This week, however, he has caught fire. Against the Cavs he put together a masterpiece (28 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a block) in the loss. He followed that up with 26 points, six rebounds, and six assists against the Jazz in addition to hitting the game-sealing three.
He’ll need to keep that hot streak going because his opponent can score in bunches every night. DeMar DeRozan always seems to get left out of discussions for top shooting guards, but he is worth the league’s attention. He’s seventh in the league in points per game at 24.9 as the top option.
There is little doubt Timmy can go shot for shot with DeRozan. Defense is where you want Hardaway Jr. to improve even if it’s just a bit. Hornacek could opt to use Lee against DeRozan since rookie O.G. Anunoby does not pose much of a threat at the three. If that’s the case, then Hardaway Jr. will still be asked to score. These two figure to lock horns a fair amount this season and beyond so tonight is just round one.
- Courtney Lee is good to go tonight after cramping his hamstring late last game:
Courtney Lee said he’ll be fine for Friday against Toronto. He said his hamstring was cramping on the fourth and he got kneed in his rear late in the game. But he didn’t seem concerned about it.
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) November 16, 2017
- Even if Lee is limited, Doug McDermott and Lance Thomas have proven to be more than serviceable on the wing.
- Enes Kanter had some trouble with his passport, but he is indeed in the Six and ready to go to war:
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) November 16, 2017
- Finally, Joakim Noah and Ron Baker will likely be healthy scratches tonight thanks to a healthy roster.
Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Air Canada Centre. Watch on MSG Network or stream on MSG GO.