The Knicks continue their fight to earn the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, hosting LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets for a rare 1 p.m. ET tip. 

The New York Knicks (39-31) host the Charlotte Hornets (33-37) at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday in the second game of a three-game homestand to end the 2020–21 regular season. After defeating the San Antonio Spurs 102-98 on Thursday night, the Knicks have the same record as the Heat, who have the tiebreaker over New York for the fifth seed. Atlanta currently sits a half-game ahead of both the Knicks and Heat for the fourth seed. 

New York needs to beat Charlotte if they want to get the fourth or fifth seed and avoid the Milwaukee Bucks or Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. Charlotte isn’t a bad team to face—they’ve lost four of their last five games and are currently without Gordon Hayward, their best player. The Knicks and Hornets have played each other twice this season and split those games, with New York winning the most recent matchup 109-97 on April 20th. 

Charlotte isn’t going to blow you away in one particular area. They rank 22nd in the NBA in Offensive Rating at 110.1 and 16th in Defensive Rating at 111.9. They also play at a relatively slow pace, ranking 18th in that stat. 

The Hornets are strongest in their backcourt, which features Rookie of the Year favorite LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, and Malik Monk. Ball is currently averaging 15.8 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists and 6.0 rebounds. He’s also shooting 36.1% from beyond the arc on 5.1 attempts per game.

Rozier leads the Hornets in scoring with 20.5 points per game while shooting 39.1% from three. Graham and Monk are solid bench pieces, offering ball-handling and outside shooting. Graham is averaging 14.6 points on 37.4% from three, and Monk is averaging 12.2 points on 41.1% from three. 

Charlotte is stacked with guards who can shoot, so the Knicks need to defend the perimeter to win this game. That hasn’t been an issue for them all season, as the Knicks rank first in the NBA in opponent three-point percentage at 33.9%. 

Let’s get to some main storylines for this game. 

Recent Minute Distributions

We’ve seen Tom Thibodeau get crazy with minutes and rotations this season, and Thursday night was another example of that. Starters like Julius Randle played 45 minutes, R.J. Barrett played 41 minutes, and Reggie Bullock played 39 minutes.

Randle and Bullock played the entire second half, and the only time Barrett sat out the second half was for a few defensive substitutions in the final minute of the game. 

It’s going to be interesting to see how Thibodeau handles the minutes over the final two games of the regular season. With seeding on the line and a significant difference between the fourth or fifth and sixth seeds, expect minutes distribution similar to what we saw against the Spurs. 

Three-Point Barrage

In one of the most unexpected turns this season, the Knicks rank fourth in the NBA in three-point percentage at 39.0%. A matchup against the Hornets here couldn’t be more perfect for this, as Charlotte allows teams to shoot a ton of the threes. 

The Hornets rank 30th in the NBA in opponent threes attempted per game at 39.7. They also rank 29th in the NBA in opponent threes made per game at 14.5. The recipe to beat the Hornets is clear: don’t have a cold shooting night from beyond the arc. 

If the Knicks can continue what they’ve been doing the rest of the season, they should be able to take advantage of Charlotte in this category. 

Injuries

Derrick Rose was absent from the Spurs win as Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley returned. While Tom Thibodeau revealed it was a precautionary sitting for Rose, the veteran point guard is labeled “questionable” for Saturday, per the team.

The Burks Effect

Alec Burks is crucial to this Knicks team, and having him back in the lineup after missing three games with a sprained ankle is why they defeated the Spurs on Thursday night. With Rose out, Burks recorded 30 points and 10 rebounds off the bench in 34 minutes.

Burks hasn’t been around much the past month, as he was sidelined with COVID-19 before spraining his ankle in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Since the Knicks won without him, it’s gone forgotten just how important it is to have another creator in the lineup. The 10-year NBA veteran is averaging 12.6 points per game while shooting 40.9% from three.

Without Burks and Rose, the Knicks have had one of the most productive bench units. With both of them, it will get even better. The overarching point here is clear: Burks being back is vital for the Knicks.

 

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