After their nine-game win streak was snapped on Tuesday, the Knicks will look to start a new win streak tonight against the Kings.

Nobody could’ve anticipated the loss to the Hornets, but here we are. Regardless, the Knicks will have to put the loss aside and continue to ride the momentum they’ve put together in recent weeks. Having won twelve of the last fifteen games, the Knicks are one of the hottest teams in the NBA at the moment and will have their hands full against another team that has shocked the league: the Sacramento Kings.

Led by All-Star De’Aaron Fox, the Kings have defied the odds this year. After trading for another All-Star in Domantas Sabonis and acquiring key rotational players such as Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, and rookie Keegan Murray, this is a revitalized Kings squad that we aren’t used to seeing just yet, especially given that this season will be the first time they have made the playoffs since 2006. This is a dangerous squad and not to be taken lightly as they will be able to light the beam on offense on any given night.

The Kings and Knicks might not have the best odds to win a title, an honor that currently goes to the Celtics, followed by the Bucks, as the people at BetJACK will tell you, but both long-ridiculed franchises are looking to prove that their regular season success is no flash in the pan. These are two squads hungry for playoff validation.

Defense will be a heavy point of emphasis for the Knicks, especially since the Kings have the highest offensive rating in NBA history right now. Fortunately, the Knicks have one of the best interior defenses in the entire league, allowing just 45.3 points in the paint per game, which ranks first amongst the entire league.

But New York’s issue has nothing to do with the interior, it’s what happens on the exterior that is their kryptonite. The Knicks surrender 12.9 threes per contest, an abysmal number that is good for 26th in the league. Considering the Kings shoot the three-ball at a 37% clip on 36.3 attempts per game, New York will have their hands full trying to contest a plethora of Sacramento shooters.

It’s unknown whether Jalen Brunson will suit up for this matchup after missing the last two games due to a sore ankle. While the Knicks fared well without him in a 131-129 double overtime road victory on Sunday night against the Celtics, Tuesday night’s game was a different story. Outside of RJ Barrett, the Knicks shot poorly from the field and made just five field goals in the fourth quarter as the Hornets surged back and took control of the game.

Brunson has the ability to get the Knicks a bucket at any given moment, and that was dearly missed as their nine-game winning streak was snapped. With two games of rest under his belt, hopefully, we see the former Villanova standout get back in the lineup and make a statement in the first game of a four-game road trip on the West Coast. At this point in the season, each and every win becomes vitally important as New York looks to climb the ladder in the East.

Controlling the Glass

While the defense is priority one for the Knicks, they’ll have to make a similar effort on the glass to ensure that Sacramento does not get any additional second chance opportunities. Fortunately, the Kings aren’t the best on the glass, ranking 22nd in the league in rebounds per game, whereas the Knicks rank in the top three. Controlling the glass will not only ensure that the Kings don’t get extra possessions, but it will give New York more chances to strike, especially given that they take a high volume of shots per contest. With Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle controlling the inside, it will be fairly difficult for the Kings to get anything going on the interior with their presence lurking at the forefront.

The only real threat on the glass for the Kings is Domantas Sabonis. Averaging 12.4 rebounds per game in 62 games played this season, Sabonis has been an animal on the boards for Sacramento and has been an extremely key part of what they’ve built in just one season. However, outside of Sabonis, the Kings do not have another rebounding threat that can help them on the interior. The next best rebounder on the team is Harrison Barnes, who only averages 4.7 rebounds per game. New York should put all of their focus on getting a body on Sabonis before anyone else to ensure that Sacramento doesn’t retain the ball after the initial shot. If the Knicks can put together another masterclass game on the glass, it’ll make it tough for the Kings to gain momentum.

Matchup to Watch: Jalen Brunson versus De’Aaron Fox

Sure, this could easily be Julius Randle and Domantas Sabonis, as they have each had phenomenal seasons for their respective teams. But the guard play for both teams has also been something to watch lately, as both Fox and Brunson are putting together the best seasons of their careers. While they play the game at different paces, they both are extremely crafty in their own ways in order to put points on the board. Fox is lightning fast, and he’ll make it tough on whoever guards him on the fast break, and even in the half-court.

Fox may have the advantage from a perspective of speed, but Brunson has the intangibles of a winner and fighter that can help this team get it done. Despite being undersized to defend other guards, Brunson hustles every minute of the game in order to give his team a fighting chance. As it stands right now, Brunson ranks 6th in the league in loose balls recovered per game as well as total loose balls recovered. In addition, he also ranks in the top three for total charges drawn, as well as charges drawn per game. The icing on the cake: Brunson is also top-three in contested threes per game as well as total contested threes. Needless to say, Brunson has the ability to impact the game by doing many of the little things that can go well under the radar in the grand scheme of things. His availability is crucial to the Knicks’ brand of basketball on a nightly basis and another absence from Brunson could be the team’s downfall for this game.

Tip-off is at 10:00 pm on MSG.

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