New York looks to extend its win streak at MSG tonight where they’ve played with outstanding energy to start the season.

Tonight’s matchup features two promising 2-1 Eastern Conference teams coming off noisy offseasons. Charlotte has dealt with the Miles Bridges domestic violence case and James Bouknight’s recent arrest. Add LaMelo Ball’s ankle injury and Terry Rozier to the Lakers rumors, and you get a tough start to the season for Michael Jordan’s Hornets. On the Knicks’ side, RJ Barrett has struggled, but Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle have the team poised to reach a three-game win streak.

Despite this, and awful backcourt play, Charlotte still has an interesting collection of talent as it looks to carry over last year’s success against the Knicks—the Hornets won three out of four matchups.

Veterans Terry Rozier, (23.5 points per game), Kelly Oubre (17.3 points per game), and Gordon Hayward (19.3 points per game) have guided the Hornets to a solid start in the absence of Ball, per ESPN Stats. But, Rozier is not expected to play tonight as he nurses an ankle injury of his own. Look for former Knick, and North Carolina native, Dennis Smith, Jr. to get a lot of minutes at the point guard position.

Surprisingly, Charlotte leads the NBA in scoring early on in the season at 122.3 points per game without Ball, per NBA Stats. Defensively, Charlotte has been middle-of-the-pack.

Re-Jul-Venated?

One of the most promising early-season developments here in the Big Apple is Julius Randle’s play. A tumultuous 2021-’22 campaign that had Knicks fans sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches, but the 27-year-old has responded nicely this year. Randle’s shot selection and overall body language look much better this season and he has stepped up as RJ Barrett struggles. He leads the Knicks in both scoring (21.9 points per game) and rebounds (9.7 per game), per ESPN Stats.

Randle’s resurgence is likely due to the fact that Jalen Brunson is now orchestrating a fluid offense that doesn’t have Randle as a ball-stopper who takes ill-advised perimeter shots. Thus far, the pair have answered all questions about their fit together. Randle recently said that Brunson “just makes the game so much easier for me.”

Also, give credit to Randle himself for adjusting his attitude, putting his head down, and morphing back into the player from two seasons ago. I expect big things from Julius and Jalen tonight; they’ll need to be on to extend this win streak.

Springboard Game

This is an important game for a Knicks team looking to maintain positive momentum. After tonight, they enter a tough part of their schedule, facing the Bucks, Cavaliers, Hawks, 76ers and Celtics in quick succession. Defeating Charlotte won’t be an easy task, but the Knicks need to if they want to stay in playoff contention this season, especially given the difficult matchups ahead.

Tip-off this evening is at 7:30 EST at Madison Square Garden.

»Read: Jalen Brunson Makes the Knicks Better, and That’s All That Matters

»Read: The Knicks Have a Center Battle Brewing

»Read: Buddy System: Pairing Young Knicks With Veteran Mentors