While Zion Williamson wrestles with a knee injury, the Pelicans come to MSG to face off the Knicks in New York’s final tune-up game.

When the two teams kicked off the Las Vegas Summer League, the headline matchup was New York’s R.J. Barrett versus New Orleans’ Zion Williamson. The former Duke teammates went third and first overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, respectively.

Unfortunately, that won’t be the case this time around, as the Pelicans announced Thursday that Williamson will miss the game due to right knee soreness. Williamson has proven to be a problem and a half through four preseason games, putting up absurd averages of 23.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.5 steals while shooting 71.4% from the field.

The Pelicans have won all four of their preseason games and go very deep into their bench. The number of players that saw the court for them for each game in chronological order are as follows: 15, 13, 15, and 16. New Orleans has only had one player record 30 minutes in a single game (Williamson played 31 in the team’s last game).

For comparison, the Knicks have played 10, 11, and 10 players over their three games. They’ve had a player record 30 minutes in a game seven times: Barrett thrice, Bobby Portis twice, and Marcus Morris and Julius Randle once apiece.

While Williamson is certainly a big loss for New Orleans, they still have All-Defensive team member Jrue Holiday, who recorded averages of 21.2 points, 7.7 assists, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game. New Orleans also employs three-point specialist J.J. Redick and sturdy interior defender Derrick Favors.

The Pelicans also have some talented youngsters, including the versatile, lanky small forward Brandon Ingram, playmaking specialist Lonzo Ball, athletic rim-running big man Jaxson Hayes, and smooth scoring guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (the latter two were taken eighth and 17th respectively in the 2019 draft).

Rotation changes

On Thursday, David Fizdale said that Frank Ntilikina would likely be a healthy scratch for Friday’s game. Ntilikina played 21 minutes in the Knicks’ previous game, which came against the Atlanta Hawks, but likely won’t play against the Pelicans in order to give Fizdale a bigger look at New York’s other two point guards, Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton.

The point guard situation has been one of the biggest talking points in the Knicks’ preseason campaign. Fizdale says the starting spot is up for grabs, but no one has set themselves apart from the pack.

Smith missed the first two games but started in the third. He showed he still has some rust to shake off as he recovers from a back injury as he recorded just four points on 1-of-5 shooting to go along with two rebounds and three assists.

Payton, the team’s most experienced point guard, was given the starting nod the first two games but posted two unimpressive performances. In his most previous game, he shot 0-for-9 from the field. Payton didn’t see any action in the last game.

Fizdale also said he would play Allonzo Trier, who did not play in the last game despite being available, in the second unit. Fellow shooting guard Damyean Dotson also recorded a healthy DNP, but no word has surfaced on how much action he will see.

Tip-off is at 8:00 p.m. EST, broadcast on TNT.

UPDATE: 6:20 p.m. EST.

Smith Jr. will start at point guard for the Knicks tonight, per Newsday‘s Steve Popper. Other lineup tinkering for Fizdale includes moving rookie R.J. Barrett to the 3 and joining Smith in the backcourt is the veteran shooting guard Wayne Ellington. Mitchell Robinson is back at center with Julius Randle a mainstay at power forward.



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