On Monday night at the Garden, a matchup for the ages awaits with the Knicks and Bulls set to fight for the right to a loss.
What’s the polar opposite of a playoff game? Whatever that is, I present to you tonight’s game at MSG. The Bulls sit 0.5 games ahead of the Knicks for eighth place in the lottery. You’ve likely heard the math ad nauseum by now, so I’ll spare you that side of things. Following tonight, the Knicks have the better tank schedule with eight playoff caliber opponents. The Bulls, on the other hand, face the Pistons and Nets twice, and also have the Magic and Hornets to cap off the season. They know how big tonight is, and are not bashful about their tank methods:
Bulls flew to NY. LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen didn’t. Vonleh did but is questionable.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 18, 2018
Nothing subtle about that. To make matters worse for New York, the team is coming off their best post-Porzingis performance. On St. Patty’s Day, they broke a bottle of Jameson over the Hornets’ proverbial skull. They shot 49 percent from the field, 46 percent from three, and dominated the third quarter, 42–17. It was the first encouraging sign since the Celtics game and featured a mini-breakthrough for Frank Ntilikina, who notched a career-high 15 points.
Let’s take a look at tonight’s contest:
Since the Bulls want to be petty tonight, I thought of some ways the Knicks can check-raise their opponent’s tank method. Here’s what I got:
- Have a team shootaround in Westchester, then take the Metro-North to MSG during rush hour. There is no way in hell they will make it to the game on time during rush hour.
- Play Jarrett Jack. Whoops, that’s not a strategy, just Hornacek’s Plan A. But seriously, play Jack 40 minutes tonight and chuck the deuces up to the Bulls.
- Celebrate Derrick Rose Night. In honor of Rose’s greatest achievement as a Knick, disappearing the day of a game last January and suffering zero repercussions, how about the whole team no-shows? What the hell would the NBA do?
Let the Kid Play!
The luck of the Irish was with Frankie on Saturday night. We’ve long known the defensive prowess of our young buck, but we had not seen much on the other side. We finally got a glimpse of what the future could hold, and boy was it nice to see. Frankie scored his 15 points in just 21 minutes, but the biggest takeaway lies beyond the box score. He was aggressive, he got inside the lane, and even converted a four-point play opportunity.
His reward? Early hook in favor of Jarrett Jack. I wish I was kidding. I’m not sure if Hornacek gave an explanation. Quite frankly, I don’t care what his reasoning was. If there is one person on the whole roster who should see as many minutes as possible to close the season, it is Frankie.
This is nothing new either. Hornacek must believe there is a method to his rotation madness. He has remained conservative in how much he plays the rookie. The worst came when he played Frankie all of 13 minutes against the 76ers. His reasoning? To protect Frankie from dealing with bigger guards like Ben Simmons.
Let the record show Frankie was not happy:
“As a competitor, I don’t agree with that,” Ntilikina told the New York Post. “That would make myself be — I don’t know how to say it in English. But I just want to take every challenge. That’s the coach’s job and decision to put who he thinks will be better on the court, but as a player, you got to be ready when he calls you.”
That’s my rookie. If there was any player you want Frank to learn how to guard, it should probably be the guy who will be in your division for the next decade. Please get Hornacek as far away from New York once April 12 hits.
Winter is here my friends, but an end is near. Frankie is starting to look good. Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to light it up. Trey Burke is looking like a steal of a contract. And all of that pales in comparison to an update on our captain, King Kristaps.
Someone just sent me this picture of Kristaps Porzingis shooting in the gym at his Manhattan apartment building.
Porzingis tore his ACL about six weeks ago and underwent surgery on Feb. 13. He said last week he has no timetable for his return. pic.twitter.com/rNegFaCJ5K
— Yaron Weitzman (@YaronWeitzman) March 18, 2018
Before you question how someone who is coming off recent ACL surgery can already be in the gym, remember this: Kristaps Porzingis is not human. He called himself a lizard for how quickly he recovers, and there is no doubting he is some form of reptile. A dragon perhaps? Whatever he truly is, just know he will be back sooner than you think.
Matchup of the Night: Justin Holiday vs. Tim Hardaway Jr.
I was actually excited to see Zach LaVine and Tim Hardaway Jr. go shot for shot tonight. Unfortunately, that bit of entertainment has been taken from us, so let’s go with the next best thing (sadly), Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Justin Holiday.
This could be a nice test for THJ, who has been sneakily hot over his last 12 games. Holiday is not the cream of the crop when it comes to NBA wings, but his length and ability to defend can cause issues for anyone. It will be interesting to see how Hardaway deals with that length and how he chooses to attack. Will he settle for three-point attempts? Will he attack the lane and force defensive help?
Chances are competition will be hard to come by tonight. Holiday is among the few Bulls who will actually be competing. Instead of taking the night off, it will be nice to see if Hardaway can use this to his advantage and perfect his offensive repertoire.