Having won five of their last six matchups against the Mavericks, the Knicks aim to expand on that in the first game of a back-to-back. 

The New York Knicks (10-12) are set to face the Dallas Mavericks (10-11) at home on Saturday afternoon at 12:30 EST. After two narrow losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the week, the Knicks are focused on finishing their week on a positive note. The Mavericks have various former Knicks on their squad, recently adding Kemba Walker to the mix alongside Tim Hardaway Jr. and Frank Ntilikina, among others. With both teams just under .500, each team will look to get after it early. New York will need all-around effort on defense in order to limit Luka Doncic and company, especially on the perimeter.

This is the Knicks’ second early afternoon game at Madison Square Garden. The last game was against the Oklahoma City Thunder just under two weeks ago. While the Knicks put up 135 points in that outing, their defense was non-existent, allowing 145 points in the loss. New York will need to get off to a good start on the defensive end in order to stop MVP candidate Luka Doncic, who has averaged 33.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 8.7 assists this season. His game has reached another level this year after reaching the Western Conference Finals this spring alongside former Maverick Jalen Brunson.

Since leaving Dallas, Brunson’s role has significantly expanded, as he currently leads the Knicks in points per game, assists per game, and steals per game. His play will be crucial to their success in this game, but the Knicks will need to see an all-around team effort in this one.

Who guards Luka Doncic?

With a hefty bag of tricks, Doncic is easily one of the craftiest playmakers the NBA has seen. On the surface he looks like a slow player, but his change of pace, passing vision and deadly step-back move truly show what he is capable of on the offensive end. He knows no limits on the offensive end as the Mavericks offense runs through him when he is on the court, either creating for himself or his teammates. The Knicks will obviously look to limit his touches on the ball and I wouldn’t be surprised if Tom Thibodeau throws several different guys at him in an attempt to slow him down as much as possible. From the starters, I can see Quentin Grimes and RJ Barrett taking turns guarding him. Off the bench, Cam Reddish would be the best player to guard Luka due to his length and size, not to mention being a solid defender.

Utilizing Cam Reddish in this game will be crucial since he can create his own shot and he can play solid defense out on the floor. Per Cleaning the Glass, the former Duke forward is currently in the 85th percentile for block percentage at his position, and in the 68th percentile for steal percentage, showing he is one of the more capable players on the Knicks to disrupt what Doncic likes to do. While Reddish has been relegated back to the bench in favor of Quentin Grimes, I think that he will be an X-Factor in this game on both ends of the floor, given that Grimes is undersized guarding Doncic and Barrett’s poor play on defense as of late.

Perimeter Defense will be Essential

A major issue for the Knicks this season has been their efforts guarding opposing players on the perimeter, ranking as one of the worst defensive teams in the league, as they give up the third most wide-open threes per game in the league, allowing opponents to attempt 19.6 wide open threes per game. That number is unacceptable, and New York will need to close out better to the perimeter to limit Dallas’s shooters. Doncic may shoot the three-ball at a 33.1% clip, but his high volume of shots overshadows how good of a shot maker is, especially down the stretch of games. Limiting Doncic will be priority number one, but his ability to create for his teammates makes this team extremely dangerous in general, especially from downtown.

The Mavericks currently have four players in their rotation that shoot the three ball at a 39% rate or better, with Davis Bertans leading the way, canning 50% of his threes this season in limited minutes, providing a spark off the bench. Of those four players shooting 39% or better from three does not include Hardaway, Maxi Kleber, or Reggie Bullock, who have all established that they can knock down the three in years past. With all the dangerous threats around the perimeter, the Knicks will have their hands full and will need to take all measures possible to ensure that each shot on the perimeter is contested with a hand up in the defender’s face.

While Miles McBride has been outside of the rotation to start the season and likely won’t be effective against Doncic, it’s worth considering putting him in at times to provide some disruption on defense. The Mavericks don’t really possess a secondary playmaker, given that Brunson left for New York, as the Mavericks have hoped that either Spencer Dinwiddie or Walker would be able to fill the void that the former Villanova Wildcat left. While Dinwiddie and Walker and proven scorers, McBride’s fresh legs can help disrupt them, especially when Luka is off the floor and they are expected to take over the workload.

Key Matchup: Mitchell Robinson and Christian Wood

Sure, Christian Wood may not start for the Mavericks, but his impact has been extremely important to the team’s success so far this season. Since being acquired from the Houston Rockets over the summer, Wood has averaged 16.8 points and 7.6 rebounds on 40.6% shooting from distance in 26.8 minutes of play per game. It’s intriguing that he does not get the start over Dwight Powell, given that Wood’s numbers blow Powell’s out of the water. Either way, the NBA journeyman has been efficient when he has seen the floor and will be another point of emphasis for the Knicks. On the flip side, Mitchell Robinson has had a nice stretch of games since returning from a knee injury.

New York’s last game versus the Milwaukee Bucks saw Robinson put his skill set on display. His 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting along with 20 rebounds helped the Knicks keep the game close despite the loss. The most impressive part of his performance was that he only picked up two fouls, as he is starting to show that he becoming smarter when it comes to defending and contesting shots properly.

Robinson and Wood may have polar opposite skillsets, but their matchup is crucial with both teams looking to get back to .500 or better. For Mitch, his presence on the offensive glass can help the Knicks get more opportunities, especially from distance as they rank last in the league in 3-point percentage. His defense will be important since Wood can knock the three down with space, so his contests need to be swift and controlled without fouling so that Wood can’t get it going on offense. With Wood spacing the floor and Mitch moving up to guard him, the rest of the Knicks squad will need to help crash the boards, something that they have struggled at this season despite ranking toward the top of the league in rebounds. While they secure many rebounds, there are even more opportunities that they aren’t capitalizing on, which is why they allow so many points on defense.

The Knicks need to feed off the energy of the home crowd in an early afternoon game to build momentum and most importantly limit Doncic’s chances from all over the court and force Maverick role players to score. New York cannot start off flat-footed on defense like they did against the Thunder. Otherwise, the game will be over before it has even started.

Related Content:

»Read: The Knicks’ Defensive Wing Rotation Needs Something 

»Read: Quarter-Season Review: The Knicks Are Just “OK” and That’s Not Good Enough

»Read: The Knicks Must Sort Out Their Veteran Dilemma