New York will try to finish the road trip on a positive note and split the season series with the Thunder.

The last time the Knicks and Thunder linked up, back on November 13th, the Knicks surrendered 145 points in an embarrassing defensive effort. The good news is that they likely can’t perform worse than that and will hopefully come into this game angry and a bit more juiced up than usual for a Monday night regular season game.

The Knicks’ loss to the Thunder accelerated Tom Thibodeau’s descent into the hot seat and had fans absolutely infuriated and baffled by how a defensive-minded coach like him could allow a performance like that on his watch to an average OKC squad.

Since then, the Knicks have gone 2-2 and have a chance to carry some unexpected positive momentum into a challenging stretch of games.

Sam Presti and the Thunder are one of the more confounding franchises in the NBA, prioritizing stockpiling first-round picks and young players. The unfortunate loss of Chet Holmgren for the season has tempered some of the positive momentum for this season, but OKC still has swiss army knife type Josh Giddey in the fold, along with three-and-D specialist Lu Dort to complement the ascending Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Sole Focus

SGA has been playing a superstar level of basketball this season, averaging 31.1 points and 5.9 assists, per ESPN Stats, and is the unquestioned cornerstone of a Thunder franchise littered with youth. Stopping SGA will be the Knicks’ number one priority this evening, something they were unable to do in their first matchup.

The 24-year-old has been mentioned as a potential trade target for the Knicks, but for now, he remains the enemy and will require the utmost attention. Expect to see more minutes from Quentin Grimes tonight, as he is the most capable perimeter stopper the Knicks have. Grimes only logged eight minutes in the last showdown and put up zeros across the board, but he saw a good amount of action in last night’s game against the Suns and could be a key in not only slowing down SGA but also providing some perimeter offense to pick up for the struggling R.J. Barrett, who is two for his last 23 from behind the arc, per ESPN Stats.

R.J.’s Turnaround

Speaking of SGA’s Canadian counterpart, R.J. Barrett, there has been a lot of chatter and concern about his inauspicious start to the season. The time is now for him to really kickstart his season. Barrett is having the worst shooting season of his young career and has been in a horrendous offensive slump, particularly in the last five games.

Fortunately, OKC is one of six teams that R.J. has averaged at least 19-plus points against, per Basketball-Reference, and he is due for a breakout game. I’m predicting a 25-plus point performance this evening and a stout defensive performance from Barrett, who is due.

The Knicks have lost three straight games to the Thunder, per Land of Basketball. 

Tip-off this evening from Paycom Center is at 8 pm EST.

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