The Knicks snapped their skid on Saturday and continue their string of Garden appearances with a rematch with James Harden and the Rockets.
Saturday night’s win against the Chicago Bulls was a rarity. Not because it was a win, although those have been scarce too, but because it was a game in which all the Baby ‘Bockers played well. Mitchell Robinson had a career-high scoring night with 23 points. R.J. Barrett had a perfect second quarter. Frank Ntilikina seamlessly fell back into the rotation, and even Kevin Knox put together one of his best outings in months.
What does that mean for Monday when the Knicks welcome Western Conference juggernaut Houston Rockets? Unlike the Bulls, the Rockets play to rip your heart out. When these two teams met in Houston last week, there was no stopping James Harden, but the Rockets also had trouble stopping Barrett.
Can the Knicks give the same offensive effort they had in Houston and do a better job defending Harden? That better be the plan, otherwise Harden could look to break the MSG scoring record for which he is currently tied with Kobe Bryant.
Here is what to look out for in tonight’s tilt.
Play the Kids
If you have seen enough of Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle’s two-man game, welcome to the party. The pairing may produce points, but it’s an eyesore to watch and rarely conducive to winning basketball.
The best stretches from the Bulls bout included one of Robinson, Barrett, Ntilikina or Knox—oh, and Taj Gibson. Gibson is the only veteran who clearly understands his role within the team. Other than Gibson, Mike Miller should lean heavily on the kids. Play Robinson 30 minutes, keep Barrett and Ntilikina together, make sure Knox gets some run, and for the love of basketball, play Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier.
Payton, Randle and Maurice Harkless—who saw major minutes Saturday—have zero staying power. What is the point of giving them minutes?
Spotlight: R.J. Barrett
Barrett showed out against the Rockets in Houston, scoring a team-high 21 points. The performance took on a little more significance when Barrett told reporters that he emulates Harden. Not a bad person to model your offense after.
Can Barrett have an encore performance against his idol? If he attacks under control, like he did in Houston and Saturday against the Bulls, the answer should be yes. The key for Barrett seems to be how he starts: As long as his teammates get him going early, we could have a present versus future dynamic between Headband Ro and The Beard.
- Dennis Smith Jr. remains out with a concussion.
- Reggie Bullock is questionable with an illness.
- Frank Ntilikina should be available to play with the nagging groin issue.