The Knicks get a chance to boost morale amid a losing streak and missing players due to COVID-19 with a visit to the Rockets on Thursday.

The New York Knicks (12-16) travel to the Toyota Center to face the Houston Rockets (9-18). This will be the second matchup of the season between these two teams, with the Knicks defeating the Rockets 106-99 on November 20th at Madison Square Garden.

Before we jump into this preview, a small rant: We should not have these games going on right now. With the omicron variant of COVID-19 running rampant through the NBA, NFL, NHL, and Premier League, the league should pause, reiterate the point to get vaccinated and regroup in about two to three weeks. It’s irresponsible that we have games going on at this very moment. End rant.

Somehow, after a loss to Golden State, I’m a bit more optimistic about the Knicks. Yes, the Knicks still need massive help and the rotation is in flux. Evan Fournier should be moved to a bench role once things are back to normal and Immanuel Quickley should see more time. Yes, Alec Burks should move back to the bench and Quentin Grimes—once he, RJ Barrett, and Obi Toppin return from covid protocols—should receive more minutes as a shooter and defender.

However, I thought the Knicks played well against one of the best teams in the league, not completely getting blown away from the Warriors’ two-way attack. Julius Randle had a solid fourth quarter against the Warriors, en route to a 31-point performance. The second wave of kids on New York’s roster also took more shine, as “Deuce” McBride got into the fray, showing an array of offensive skills while maintaining his pit bull-like attitude on defense.

We even got Kevin Knox showing up for games now, a huge surprise. As the team deals with various players out at the moment, perhaps Tom Thibodeau can finally see the light and play the kids more minutes. Not only do McBride and Knox get good minutes, but a slight minutes bump for Immanuel Quickley and Mitchell Robinson should be in order, and I’m not totally out on snagging a few third center minutes for Jericho Sims either.

The Knicks are frustrating this season, but playing the kids and seeing what you got in them could induce some exciting basketball for the future, at least.

New York’s opponent, the Houston Rockets, are in the midst of a rebuild after the end of the James Harden era. It started with a 15-game losing streak but was followed up by a seven-game winning streak. Weird stuff, to say the least. The Rockets are in the bottom 10 in both offense and defense this season, and their best player, Christian Wood, is a popular trade chip these days. Still, Houston boasts several young talents capable of leading their team one day like Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green.

When these two teams last played, it was a much closer game than expected, with Houston making things interesting in the fourth quarter. This time around, New York is missing several players, plus Kemba Walker, in the rotation the last go around, seems glued to the bench and out of the rotation for good. It’ll be interesting to see how New York deals with a team that Houston, who can pull them out of their comfort zone with their propensity to push the ball (first in the league in pace).

What to Watch

Tom Thibodeau’s minutes’ distribution: I’m curious to see how Thibs divis up the minutes because I think the younger talent should play. Not only do we get to see them play, but because it allows you more insight into who should be in the rotation and how to play the trade market. Both Quickley and McBride should get plenty of chances to run the show and Sims getting some time at center.

Julius Randle heating up: After his solid performance against Golden State, could this be a chance for Randle to turn it around? While he hasn’t been awful, Randle has to find some of the magic from last season to help the Knicks turn things around. Against Houston, Randle doesn’t have a tough defensive matchup ahead of him and could control New York’s offense. Pencil me in for another strong Randle performance.

Sengun vs. Knicks centers: Alperen Şengün is special. The 6-foot-9 rookie from Turkey plays the game at his own pace and does it without leaving the ground much. An impressive low-post game, combined with his passing ability creates Nikola Jokic comparisons, but that’s another story. I’m fascinated to see him go against New York’s center combination because I think he has the size advantage against Noel, while the grace and nimbleness to get buckets against Robinson.

COVID-19 update: Kevin Knox joined Obi Toppin, RJ Barrett, and Quentin Grimes as Knicks under the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The Knicks lose another option at the wing and at power forward, which might result in Taj Gibson playing at the backup 4 spot.

 

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