The Knicks are home for a quick detour before another road trip, this time facing the Spurs again at Madison Square Garden for the first game of 2018.
Winter has come. With it comes the trials and tribulations that have haunted the Knicks in the past. January has been the plague for the Knicks in recent years, and over the past three seasons they have a combined record of 17-30. Right now they sit at 18-18 and are right on the cusp of the final playoff spot. Tonight starts a month that will bring 16 games with it. By the end of that stretch, we will know where this season will end.
The Knicks are matched up against the San Antonio Spurs tonight in their second and final meeting of the 2017-18 season.
So far this year’s Knicks team has had no lack of pride. Despite a reduction in talent, they are in playoff contention. Here are a few things they can do to help change their fate of years past, starting tonight.
Protect the Mecca
Saturday night’s win New Orleans was just the Knicks’ third win of the season on the road. They have 26 road games remaining compared to just 19 home games after tonight. If they cannot at least win half of their games at the Garden, they’re doomed.
That adds an extra emphasis on home games. They are 15-6 at MSG this season, and shoot considerably better in friendly confines, connecting on 47.9 percent of their shots from the field and 38 percent from three. They also attempt more threes at home (22.3), which is important because they rank dead last in the league in three-point attempts and makes.
Time for a Promotion
If you were worried about Frank Ntilikina’s offensive game, here are some stats to ease your mind (per Basketball-Reference.com):
October – November: 5.5 FGA, 34.3 FG%, 1.8 3PA, 25.0 3P%, 4.7 PPG
December: 7.0 FGA, 38.5 FG%, 2.1 3PA, 40.7 3P%, 7.3 PPG
Did I mention he’s still 19 years old? Did I tell you how he’s already near the top of the league in perimeter defense and put the clamps on Kyrie Irving?
Here are the leaders in perimeter defensive ratings (PDR). Players needed 650 minutes to qualify. pic.twitter.com/syrRNYIooh
— Steve Shea (@SteveShea33) January 1, 2018
The rookie has proven he belongs. Jarrett Jack has been a godsend at times this season, and has produced as the starter. His mentoring to Ntilikina has also been important. However, the time has come to see what Frankie can do with starter minutes. My close personal friend, Peter Saclarides, can fill you in on all the reasons why this makes sense right here.
Tonight would be perfect opportunity to ease Frankie in. He would start opposite of his idol Tony Parker, who is no longer swift in step. Of the starting point guards in the league, Parker is one of the few Frankie can beat off the dribble with ease. On defense, Frankie should have no trouble gobbling up his elder countryman.
He had success against Parker in the moments they matched up. He notched a career-high 11 assists and held Parker to 1-of-3 shooting from the floor. There is no reason he cannot have similar success this time around. It’s time for Hornacek to let the young bull run.
Spreading the Wealth
Kenny Smith had a good anecdote about getting then teammate, Hakeem Olajuwon, the ball. I can’t quote him verbatim, but he mentioned working the ball to Hakeem versus giving it to him at start of possession. The defense already knew where the ball would go. Getting everyone else involved presented the opportunity for another play or, at the very least, distracted the defense from Hakeem even if it was for a second.
On Saturday, this is how KP found his shots in that fourth quarter comeback. Without Tim Hardaway Jr., Porzingis has started to resemble his mentor Carmelo Anthony. The ball was starting to stick again. Porzingis seemed to start every possession at the top of the key and finished most of those possessions in the same spot.
The great news is KP understands his shortcomings:
Kristaps Porzingis talked a bit today about his approach/decision-making in the post: pic.twitter.com/GPKVQ9SJdc
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) January 1, 2018
Against the Pelicans, a lot of his buckets came off of assists. He shot 50 percent from the field, his best mark since late November. KP’s self-awareness is his greatest asset–and probably the biggest reason I think he becomes great.
He saw the positive effect his adjustment had Saturday. Gregg Popovich will definitely look to neutralize him as best he can. The Spurs are insanely disciplined, averaging a league-low 17.1 personal fouls committed per game. They also rank third in the league in blocks per game (5.6), so the key to success is ball movement. That starts with their leader.
Matchup of the Night: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Kristaps Porzingis
We’ve come this far, and there has been no mention of LaMarcus Aldridge. This is a recurring theme of his career, so he’s probably not offended. While Kawhi and Parker have been in and out of the lineup, it has been Aldridge who has kept it all together. He has put together the quietest All-Star resume as the Spurs continued to crank out wins. On the season, he is averaging 22 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game. When you watch him, you feel like you’re watching the LA from the Portland days.
Porzingis will have his hands full with the revitalized Aldridge. On offense, KP should get whatever he likes if he gets Aldridge out on the perimeter. Down low is where the matchup will be won. Unlike Anthony Davis, Aldridge likes to operate close to the basket where he is shooting 50.5 percent. Porzingis will put his eight-foot wingspan to use. He is averaging 2.2 blocks (second in the league) per game, and will need to use his long limbs to make life more difficult for LA and Pau Gasol.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. is closer to a return. Per ESPN’s Ian Begley, Timmy is out of his protective boot but has yet to start running. The team still expects their second-leading scorer back within the month.
- The Knicks expect Kyle O’Quinn to opt-out at the end of the season. Does this new information (assuming this is news to the team) affect KOQ’s minutes? Will the team showcase him or will he get the Julius Randle treatment?
- Sources have told The Knicks Wall that Ron Baker is in stable condition and high spirits. For those of you unaware, Ron was flatlined by Anthony Davis last game. Absolutely obliterated. It did not look good. Luckily he is fine, although his facial recognition is having some issues.
Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. EST on MSG.