After dropping a fourth quarter dud in Chicago, a quick turnaround finds New York facing Kawhi Leonard and the perma-threatening Spurs in San Antonio.
The Knicks (17-17) will head to the AT&T Center to take on Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs (24-11) on Thursday night, looking to bounce back from last night’s loss against the Bulls, which brought them to an abysmal 2-11 road record.
The Knicks have struggled recently, to the tune of four losses in their last five games, the last two of which have come in particularly ugly fashion. Missed free throws killed the Knicks down the stretch against the 76ers and poor offensive execution hurt them in the final minutes against the Bulls (plus missing a free-throw, too!). They scored only one point in the final 4:24 in Chicago. The Spurs have been their usual unselfish selves this season, even without Kawhi Leonard through the majority of it. Popovich’s squad has won five of their last six games as Kawhi has been regaining his footing coming off a quadricep injury, which sidelined him for the Spurs’ first 27 contests.
Here are some things to watch for ahead of the matchup in San Antonio:
The Spurs have been ramping up Kawhi Leonard’s minutes coming off the quad injury that held him out for most of the start of the season. He is averaging 12.6 points per game since he’s been back in limited minutes. He’s also coming off his best performance of the season, having just dropped 21 points in a season-high 26 minutes against the Nets.
The Knicks will probably throw a mixture of Lance Thomas, Courtney Lee, and fingers crossed Frank Ntilikina on The Claw. Ntilikina has often been compared to Leonard in analyzing his defensive prowess as both players possess ungodly wingspans for their positions. Although Leonard, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year honoree, is the more poised player, Frank has plenty to learn and absorb from the worthy opponent.
Who Will Guard KP?
Kristaps is also getting his footing back under him, coming off a scare in which his ankle was rolled over by Justise Winslow. He seems basically back up to full health now, having secured three 20-point games since his 1-point dud against Boston in his return.
The Spurs are an interesting matchup for KP as they don’t really have very many mobile bigs. They will probably try to throw a combination of players on him to throw him off. Davis Bertans, a second-year forward out of Latvia will be tasked with guarding his fellow countryman a bit, although he does not log big minutes for the Spurs. He is a great stretch four on the offensive end with a quick release, but his defensive deficiencies may limit his time on the court against our Timb-wearing unicorn. They will also probably give Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge a shot on KP. After he torches those guys, Pop will go to the height-disadvantaged Kawhi, who can bother KP with his length and physicality.
It seems plenty natural for a young team to struggle on the road, but 2-11 is simply unacceptable for a team looking to crack a playoff berth. It doesn’t get any easier from here on out, as they head to New Orleans to matchup with the Pelicans’ Twin Towers. The Knicks are 11.5 point underdogs against the Spurs, so even being able to hang closely in this one would be a confidence booster for this team who is heading into one of the toughest portions of the season with 15 of their next 19 games coming on the road. This may be the defining stretch of the season, and it remains to be seen whether the Knicks can conquer their road woes or not. Additionally, the Knicks will see the Spurs once more in short time next Tuesday when they visit MSG.
Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. EST, and you can catch the game on MSG Network.
UPDATE: Kawhi Leonard is OUT for the Spurs tonight.