The Knicks ring in the New Year at home against the Suns. The celebrations won’t include RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, or Devin Booker. 

The New York Knicks (19-18) will kick off 2023 at Madison Square Garden against the Phoenix Suns (20-17). These teams last played on November 20th—the Suns defeated the Knicks 116 to 95. More recently, the Knicks closed out 2022 with a 108-88 victory against the Houston Rockets. The Suns arrive in New York on a two-game losing streak against two lesser Eastern Conference teams—the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors.

Both teams are limping into the New Year. Jalen Brunson is questionable with an ankle injury, and both RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin are out. If Brunson plays, Miles “Deuce” McBride should slot into a backup role, and the Knicks will favor Brunson/Immanuel Quickley minutes for the first time in this new nine-man rotation. Barrett is a huge loss as the lone wing on the roster, and Toppin is a big loss because this Knicks bench could use some juice. The Knicks need to get healthy, but until then, they’ll stretch their eight-and-a-half-man rotation—sometimes Derrick Rose, sometimes Evan Fournier.

Show Me My Opponent

The last time these two teams faced each other, the Suns were a team boasting a top-10 offense and defense; they seemed one move away from fixing some of their roster issues for a playoff run. Then, Phoenix’s defense fell off to 17th in the league, Devin Booker got hurt, the Pelicans whooped them three times. The front office has yet to make a trade to improve their title aspirations.

With Chris Paul at the helm, the Suns will generate good shots, but their next guys need to step up with Booker out. Deandre Ayton can make a large step forward offensively, while Mikal Bridges has moments to show his ability to put the ball on the floor and generate some offense. Paul will get them easy buckets and finishes around the rim, but Ayton and Bridges need to play bigger roles if the Suns are going to have any chance of holding on until Booker returns.

Ultimately, players like Cam Payne, Torrey Craig, Damion Lee, Landry Shamet, Dario Saric, and Jock Landale need to offer offense for Phoenix, and that’s an issue. Payne and Shamet have both battled injuries, leaving Paul as the lone offensive creator on the team. Injuries have gotten so bad that we’ve seen fringe guys like Josh Okogie come in, get solid minutes, and stay in the rotation.  There will be nights where the shooting will win them games, but on most, the Suns will be in dogfights until Booker returns.

And for the Suns’ front office, they need a trade, maybe two to compete in the Western Conference. With teams like New Orleans and Memphis taking another leap forward, the Suns need more to get back to the finals.

What to Watch

  • A fast start: Even though the Knicks will be without Obi Toppin and RJ Barrett, they must get off to a fast start. I want to see good Julius Randle possessions, Quentin Grimes shoot, and Jalen Brunson create space in the middle of the floor. Generating good shots, building a lead, and forcing a weakened Phoenix squad to attack and be aggressive could help New York’s defense create more offense.

  • Mitchell Robinson defending DeAndre Ayton: I love the DeAndre Ayton matchup for Mitchell Robinson. While Ayton is extremely talented, he also settles for mid-range jumpers, hook shots, and floaters. Robinson, who can handle slashing guards and power bigs, should get under Ayton and bother him in the middle of the floor, forcing him to get more physical than normal and leave his game.

  • Jalen Brunson and Immanuel Quickley in attack mode: Chris Paul is still a good defender, but he’s older and taking a step back. Cam Payne is taller but also a poor defender. Brunson and IQ should force them to run through screens in the pick-and-roll game.

Tip-off is set for 3:00 p.m.

Related Content:

»Read: RJ Barrett Is Becoming Anything But Inconsistent

»Read: Mitchell Robinson Has Been Key For Knicks Run

»Read: Just How Good a Shooter Is Immanuel Quickley