The Knicks’ winning streak came to an end with a loss to the Thunder. New York will aspire to get back in the win column when Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets come to town on Sunday.

After rallying off three consecutive victories at the expense of playoff hopefuls in the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, and Utah Jazz, the New York Knicks (5-4) continued their homestand with a face-off against the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC upset the surging Knicks due to standout performances from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, and Al Horford. The Thunder dragged the sloven Knicks to the finish line with New York displaying little offensive coherence for 48 minutes.

Now the Knicks finish a three-game homestand by hosting the Denver Nuggets (4-5). The Knicks will have to shoot the ball much better than they did on Friday when they only converted nine of 27 three-point attempts and shot just 35.8% from the field.

Here’s to hoping that the Knicks see more of their looks fall against the Nuggets because a high-octane offense like Denver’s can break the game open with scoring runs should New York’s accuracy woes persist on Sunday.

Keep Nikola Jokic in check

There’s a legitimate argument to be made that nobody is playing better basketball right now than Nikola Jokic. The Serbian sensation is averaging a triple-double to the tune of 24.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 11.0 assists per contest with a career-high in effective field-goal percentage at 62.9%. If the Nuggets weren’t sitting with a mediocre 4-5 record, Jokic would be the heavy favorite for MVP, and he still may be regardless of his team’s unspectacular start.

Players of Jokic’s ilk, cream of the crop talents, are nearly impossible to be neutralized by any defense. He’s a player with a once-in-a-lifetime sort of skill set. While the Knicks will be hard-pressed to shut down Jokic (no team has come close to it this season), they can at least contain him. Limiting Jokic’s production will be a collective effort, it is too tall a task for anyone man. Although, assuming the Knicks don’t throw double-teams his way every time down due to his unique ability to find the open man, Mitchell Robinson will be tasked with nullifying Jokic on most possessions. Robinson, with his long reach and outstanding shot-blocking chops, is as well-equipped as anyone in the NBA to make life difficult for the superstar.

It’s paramount that Robinson is extra cautious towards avoiding foul trouble. New York’s other bigs in Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson are ineffective at defending behind the three-point line, where Jokic is shooting 44.4%. Also, Noel and Gibson are inferior paint protectors as well, meaning Jokic may be in for a field day should Robinson be forced to sit on the bench longer than usual.

Throwing double-teams at Jokic here and there to keep him guessing is a sensible strategy, but any more often than that and he’ll begin to carve up the defense; expect Jokic to be operating one-on-one against Robinson more often than not. Robinson has the quickness to keep up with Jokic on the perimeter and the strength to battle him down low.

The Nuggets are coming off a wacky win over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers, if you didn’t hear, were under intense COVID-19 health and safety protocol guidelines, which knocked out half of the roster. Further, All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were out with non-COVID injuries, providing just seven players available against Denver (with an eighth lawfully suited up but out in Mike Scott). The Sixers made a valiant effort, with rookie guard Tyrese Maxey registering an early career-high 39 points on 33 shots in 44 minutes in the defeat to the Mile High City franchise.

Jokic recorded 15 points and 12 dimes in 29 minutes ahead of the second night of a back-to-back on the Eastern Seaboard.

Generate more open threes for Knox

Kevin Knox has found the range from deep after being plagued with inconsistent long-range shooting for the first two years of his career. Knox is burying his threes at an elite 40% clip with 0.2 more shots taken therein compared to the season prior. With professional scorer Alec Burks expected to be sidelined for at least another week, the Knicks have been desperately searching for a scoring punch to offset his absence. Despite this, Knox hasn’t seen additional floor time. In fact, his minutes have dropped—he’s suited up for just 17.8 minutes on average over his last four. Yet, during this span, Knox has found the net on six of his 10 three-pointers.

At this juncture, New York is in a three-way tie with the Magic and Cavaliers for the least three-point makes per game at 9.9. Prioritizing additional playing time and touches for Knox will allow the Knicks to escape the NBA’s three-point shooting cellar. Knox is quite possibly the best pure shooter of the available players on this New York roster, and he’s averaging just one more attempted trey this season than Elfrid Payton, a notoriously streaky shooter.

The Knicks’ lack of reliable floor spacing has already cost them a few wins this season. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has assured that New York performs admirably on the defensive end night in and night out, but the other side of the ball remains a work in progress. Whether it’s off of drive-and-kick or pick-and-roll actions, the Knicks should set up Knox for more catch-and-shoot triple opportunities. The upper-echelon marksman with an undeniably smooth stroke is capable of turning around what has been a bumpy start shooting the deep ball for New York.

Keep an eye out for the number of three-point attempts Knox hoists up throughout this evening’s contest.

 

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