Feeling low on a losing skid, the Knicks will have to match up with juggernaut Warriors — and play host to impending free-agent Kevin Durant, too.
Wednesday night in Miami was, well, ugly. Forget it ever happened. Forget that 45 points were given up to a typically docile Heat offense (Third Quarter Knicks BYKE!). Let’s forget that Trey Burke (1-for-10) or Mario Hezonja (4-for-15 night) couldn’t hit the ocean from the sand. Let’s forget that the team shot an anemic 36 percent from the field. Downright ugly. The good news is it is now in the past. Bury the game ball and move on to the next opponent.
Up next are the defending champion Golden State Warriors. They are coming off a public baptism of the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night that included Stephen Curry dropping a smooth 51 points. The focus of this showdown will of course be Kevin Durant. He can become a free agent this summer, and there is growing belief the Knicks are major players to land KD’s services should he hit the open market.
But that’s in the future. Let’s focus on the now.
Movin’ On Up
Give my guy Damyean Dotson some more minutes! When Kevin Knox went down, someone was going to have to step up. The hope was that person would be Mario Hezonja or Courtney Lee. Instead it has been Dotson, who had to be clamoring for some court time. Of all the Fiz Kids, he has received the least amount of attention. His recent play has changed that.
Dotson paced the team in scoring with 20 points against the Heat on 8-of-14 shooting, and added a team-high 10 rebounds, a pair of assists as well as a block and a steal. That performance was a culmination of three consecutive strong outings.
Hezonja ➡️ Frank ➡️ Dotson for 3️⃣ pic.twitter.com/mX2xAMlGeI
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) October 25, 2018
Since finagling his way into the rotation, Dotson is averaging 14.7 points per game while posting an outstanding 61.3 true shooting percentage. On defense, he’s been just as impressive, leading the team in steals (1.7 per game) over the last three games. Why he was not included in the rotation sooner remains a mystery.
The good news is that he has finally found some minutes. His defense on the wing will be needed with the Splash Brothers and KD flying around the court. With another performance like Wednesday night’s, Dotson could set his sights on the starting lineup.
Shake It Up
I know, I know, it’s only been five games. There’s a lot of basketball left in the season, but I would be remiss not to mention that this starting lineup ain’t it chief. Trey Burke still has a role on this team, but not as a starter. It’s been fun watching him and Tim Hardaway Jr. relive the Michigan days, but if I see Trey pull up for another mid-range jumper, I will gouge my eyes out.
On paper, the numbers for this unit aren’t glaringly awful (43.8 percent from the floor, 34.3 from deep), but watching them is a different story. Burke and Kanter don’t gel well from a spacing standpoint. If you already have Frank Ntilikina and Lance Thomas on the floor, you’d better have an offense-savvy guy somewhere. Burke has not been that.
Until Kevin Knox is healthy, Fizdale could look to mix and match lineup tweaks. If he can trust the playmaking of not just Frank, but Hardaway Jr., someone like Dotson or Courtney Lee (if he ever comes back) could do the trick.
Roll Out the Red Carpet
The worst kept secret in MSG is the team’s desire to add a max player next summer. The team stretched Joakim Noah and have held off on extending Kristaps Porzingis with the hope to go big game hunting July 1. At the top of the wish list has to be Kevin Durant, should he hit the open market.
Unlike years past—most notably the shameless tanking to land LeBron in 2010—the Knicks actually have a shot to land Durant. Billboards have begun to pop up. Durant is not impressed with those. What he is impressed with is MSG.
Kevin Durant on Madison Square Garden: “It’s like a playground with walls. You walk outside and you’re right on the street. It feels like you’re playing at Rucker Park, just indoors. And that energy… it’s just pure, pure love for the game at the Garden.” pic.twitter.com/p9UeSOGnUj
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 26, 2018
What makes that quote intriguing is Durant’s love of playground basketball, and Rucker Park in particular.
You don’t have to read too many tea leaves to conclude that Durant in New York is a real possibility. The important thing tonight is to not forget about our current Knicks in favor of a possible future Knick.
Give Durant a golf clap, but don’t throw roses at his feet. A stronger message is showcasing the atmosphere that awaits Durant should he choose to make MSG his home.
Spotlight: Frank Ntilikina
The great debate among Knicks fans is whether or not Frank is a point guard. Kind of idiotic, given how we have all welcomed Fizdale’s position-less vision, but I digress. One thing about Frank that’s not open for debate is his standing as the team’s best defender.
With that title comes the responsibility of taking on the toughest assignments night in and night out. Tonight he draws Stephen Curry, who looks like the Steph Curry we got used to seeing before Durant arrived. He has come out the gates blazing hot from downtown, sinking at least six three-pointers per game and shooting 52 percent. Against the Wizards, Curry stole their heart early. He started the game with 23 first-quarter points, and went a perfect 5-for-5 from deep. If the Knicks want to have any shot at an upset, Frank will have to be on him from the jump.
This is the opportune time for Fizdale to move Frank down to the point. Burke had his chance to secure starting point guard duties and floundered. If he were to start the game, Curry garbage time might start by halftime.
If Fizdale truly views Frankie as his top stopper, this is a non-discussion. Frank has the size to ruffle Curry’s feathers and the skill to stop him sneaking away. In the loss to Miami, Frank looked noticeably down. The perfect pick me up would be a strong outing against the second-best point guard of all time.