The Knicks are facing a few injuries following their 1-4 west coast trip, but they’re home against a weaker opponent in the Thunder.
The New York Knicks (25-32) return home to Madison Square Garden to host the Oklahoma City Thunder (17-39). The last time these two teams played each other, the Thunder hosted a short-handed Knicks team and came away with a 95-80 victory on New Year’s Eve. New York enters the contest with eight losses in their last 10 games, but it’s just 1.5 games out of the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference.
After a disappointing trade deadline that saw the Knicks fail to offload any of their veterans, New York sits in a tough position. With 25 wins, the Knicks sit in 12th in the conference but with just two teams in front of them for a play-in spot. If Derrick Rose and RJ Barrett can return shortly after the All-Star break, the argument of pushing to make the play-in series will only continue to grow.
However, the Knicks have failed to gain any momentum and with a vicious schedule ahead of them, pursuing that short-lived playoff appearance over a lottery pick feels ill-advised.
Whether the Knicks and Tom Thibodeau will play the young kids more remains to be. Cam Reddish has seen more playing time, but only in the absence of RJ Barrett, currently healing from an ankle injury. Quentin Grimes seems set in the rotation, but Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin seem on the outside looking in. With a chance at playoff basketball, Thibodeau may continue to lean on his veterans, but for New York’s sake, the kids may be a better play now and for the future.
Before we get to the toughest part of New York’s schedule, the Knicks are set to host the Thunder. One of the worst teams in the Western Conference, Oklahoma City is in the midst of a multi-year rebuild that has begun to bear some fruit. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been injured throughout the season, but that has only allowed players like Josh Giddey and Luguentz Dort to continue to develop their games.
And for Oklahoma City’s struggles, they do rank ninth in defensive efficiency, per NBA.com. Guys like Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Kenrich Williams are switchable forwards, capable of defending multiple positions, while Dort has continued to be an All-NBA level defender since his arrival in the league. It allows the Thunder to put pressure on opponents, even though their offense—30th in the league—doesn’t allow them to capitalize.
The Knicks have shown the ability to build large leads over teams like Oklahoma City, but they have also shown the ability to give the game back to the opponent the same night. Recent losses to Los Angeles and Portland are prime examples of the Knicks taking their foot off the gas, only for a team to come back and completely stun the Knicks on the night. The Knicks are better than the Thunder, but it’s tough to know which Knicks will show up at what time.
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WHAT TO WATCH
- Julius Randle: The Knicks are going to need another big game from Randle, who has slowly started to find a groove this season. His inside-outside game and presence as a ball-handler and creator in New York’s offense will be huge in this game, as New York is without another true offensive threat.
- Grimes shooting and defense: Quentin Grimes continues to get minutes and continues to look good on both sides of the ball. Even when his shot isn’t falling, he’s good at moving the ball and creating space for open looks. Defensively, he’s good for a rookie, but I’m stopping short of calling him a great defender. Nights like this getting reps against a tough cover in Giddey should be a test for the 25th overall pick.
- “Taking” a victory: This should be a win for the Knicks, especially if they want to make the play-in. As good as OKC is on defense, this Knicks team should be able to beat them and pull away a bit, similar to the way the Knicks had the lead against Portland. Good defense, limiting turnovers, and timely outside shooting should be key in snagging a victory at home.
The Knicks have a trio of “questionables“: Cam Reddish and centers Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel. RJ Barrett (sprained ankle) and Derrick Rose (ankle surgery) remain out.
For OKC, Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is out along with Luguentz Dort, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Mike Muscala.
Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on MSG Network and Bally Sports Oklahoma.