The Knicks start 2019 in Denver to face starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay’s former team—the best in the West, by the way.
New year, new Knicks? Our Baby ‘Bockers capped off 2018 in embarrassing fashion, getting blown out of Utah. It was far and away their worst defensive outing of the season, which is scary to type out, let alone read. To add insult to injury, Enes Kanter has started to grow restless of his role on the team. Changes could be on the way in the near future, but for now they are on to Denver.
The Nuggets possess enough firepower to embarrass the Knicks once again if New York’s defense is putrid. Jamal Murray in particular has scored 77 points in his last two games. Nikola Jokic presents the biggest mismatch, especially if David Fizdale opts to keep Luke Kornet in the starting lineup. Rudy Gobert is not exactly Hakeem Olajuwon yet he went off for 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting. Then there’s the possible return of Paul Millsap and Gary Harris.
Tonight is a chance for Fizdale’s group to wash the nasty taste of last game out. A strong outing, maybe even a win, against the third-best team in the league could be a nice boost to kickstart a crucial calendar year for the franchise.
Here’s what to look for tonight.
Looking for Revenge
We will have to put the Kevin Knox vs. Michael Porter Jr. clash on hold, and may have to wait for Emmanuel Mudiay’s revenge as well. Mudiay is listed as questionable with a sprained ankle suffered in Saturday’s slaughter. The former Denver draft pick was offloaded by the Nuggets last year and is now in the midst of a metamorphic season. He was a bust for the Nuggets, but now it looks like all Mudiay needed was time and encouragement.
This is a game Mudiay had to have circled on his calendar. Even with the gimpy ankle, he said he will be ready to go. Fizdale will likely give his personal reclamation project every chance to play. When Fizdale returned to Memphis, Mudiay made a point to get that win for his coach; now Fiz can return the favor.
It was only a matter of time for Enes Kanter to grow disgruntled. Kanter was not happy about being sent back to the bench. His demeanor on the court has screamed of unhappiness. Getting benched for Kornet means that once Mitchell Robinson returns, Kanter could very well be the team’s third-string center.
So where do Kanter and the Knicks go from here? Fizdale is staying out of the way, allowing the front office to handle personnel matters.
“As long as these are my guys and in the gym with me, I’m coaching the hell out of them and make them better players,” Fizdale told reporters on Monday. “I’ll leave that kind of stuff to Scott [Perry] to handle that.”
In the meantime, Kanter would be better served using his playing time to showcase, not sulk.
Spotlight: Noah Vonleh
Noah Vonleh has continued to take on a bigger role for this team. He was tasked with slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo—and did a pretty damn good job all things considered. Tonight, Fizdale may lean on him once again to slow down Jokic.
Jokic is not only their best player, but their best facilitator. He gets in a groove and he could have a triple double before the half with the game all but over. Vonleh is big enough to bang with the Serbian in the paint and agile enough to deal with him on the perimeter. If the Knicks are able to pull the upset, Vonleh will play a big role.