Marcus Morris expects a cold reception from Spurs fans as the Knicks open their regular season on the road in San Antonio.
The dress rehearsals are over, it’s time for the real stuff. To tip off the regular season the Knicks will head down to San Antonio to face off against the Spurs.
David Fizdale’s bunch had a preseason that featured some highs and some lows, so signs of encouragement, but also some signs of stagnation. They finished 1-3, but did have strong play from R.J. Barrett, Frank Ntilikina, and Kevin Knox. The rest will look to start the clean slate against an able Spurs team.
These are not the San Antonio Spurs you grew up on, although Tim Duncan will be present as an assistant, but a Gregg Popovich–coached team can never be taken too lightly, with the Western Conference team favored -600, per this week’s NBA odds at SBD. Marcus Morris will command most of the attention heading in, after he spurned the Spurs to join the Knicks, but there is much more to look out for in tonight’s season opener.
Marcus Morris expects to wear the villain hat out of the gate. He is anticipating to be the least popular person in AT&T Center and understands it, too.
“No hard feelings. No disrespect toward them,” Morris told reporters. “If I was them, I’d boo me too.”
What Morris does with the hate will be the interesting part. He started his Knick career being ejected for bumping Justin Anderson on the head with the ball. Can Rudy Gay be in store for similar antics? Will Morris instead look to torch the team he thought he’d be playing for? He will certainly have every opportunity to as he will be in the starting lineup.
David Fizdale decided to wait until today to name his starting point guard. It was the only true competition during the preseason, the rest of the starting unit has been set in stone for some time.
Turns out it was not really a competition after all. Despite Frank Ntilikina outplaying Elfrid Payton the whole preseason, and Dennis Smith Jr. missing 10 days of the preseason due to injury, the final decision came down to, wait for it, Payton and Smith.
So once again a former Scott Perry pick has come in and taken a spot that a homegrown player rightfully should have. Not to be all gloom, Elfrid does give the starting unit a legitimate facilitator and strong team defender. It will be interesting to see how the starting unit generates points if Randle or Morris struggle with their shot.
Fizdale has been weighing starting combo guard Allonzo Trier, the second-year former undrafted free agent, and Barrett in the backcourt. Right now the sentiment is the actual starting lineup will not be revealed until hours before tip-off.
Change of Plans
In a bit of shocking news the Knicks may be without their two best frontcourt defenders, Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson. Robinson sprained his ankle at practice Monday and Gibson has a sore right calf. Both are listed as questionable. (UPDATE: Robinson is officially out, Gibson is available, per the team.)
Should the team be without either player, the floodgates could open down low. Randle is not known for his defense, and Bobby Portis is a far cry from anything one would consider a good defender. In the event Portis has to start, Fizdale may be better served going small ball with Randle at the 5 and attempt to get in a shootout with a Spurs team that lacks the offensive punch they once had.
Spotlight: R.J. Barrett
R.J. Barrett was the silver lining in a 1-3 preseason. Barrett capped off his first preseason with a stellar performance against the Pelicans. Beyond the impressive stat line (19 points, six rebounds, three assists, one block) was his efficiency. He shot 75% from the floor in a tough matchup versus a stout Pelicans backcourt led by Jrue Holiday.
Tonight Barrett will draw another tough assignment in DeMar DeRozan. Defensively Barrett will have to corral DeRozan, who will certainly be a focal point of the Spurs’ offensive game plan as Popovich is sure to test the rookie. On offense, can Barrett space the floor and allow Randle and Morris to operate freely, as well as initiate the offense as the de facto playmaker?
Big things are expected from Barrett right out of the gate. He appears ready for the challenge, and will get the chance to prove himself once again against a worthy adversary.
UPDATE: 7:08 p.m. EST.
Fizdale officially announced his Game 1 starting lineup, and with Robinson it’s a doozy. No point guard “won” the competition, so he’s starting rookie Barrett at lead guard, essentially, with Trier in the backcourt despite the second-year shooting guard never having started one game in the preseason with this unit. Bobby Portis will start at center in Robinson’s stead, and Morris and Randle join him in the frontcourt.
Allonzo Trier, Bobby Portis, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Marcus Morris will start for the Knicks in San Antonio tonight— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) October 23, 2019
This article was updated after publishing to reflect latest status for Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson.