After snapping an eight-game losing streak against the Lakers yesterday, the Knicks square off against a Kawhi Leonard–less Raptors squad tonight.
Fresh off the elation of dethroning LeBron James and the Lakers in his playground, the Knicks (14-56) make a quick return to action against the second-place Raptors (49-21) in Toronto. New York has won just two of its last 10 games. This season’s tanking is nearly complete, with only 12 games to go in this misery-inducing campaign. Toronto is playing its second game in as many days as well, setting the stage for some pristine March basketball.
Despite missing Dennis Smith Jr., Noah Vonleh, and Frank Ntilikina due to injuries, the Knicks put together one of their most encouraging team performances of the season on Sunday. An all-around performance from New York’s starting five was punctuated by Mario Hezonja’s game-sealing block of James, giving David Fizdale’s team some decent momentum heading into tonight.
HEZONJA BLOCKS JAMES— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 17, 2019
GAME OVER pic.twitter.com/kLwvlYl7Mc
Kawhi Leonard will not play tonight due to load management. Kyle Lowry is questionable with an ankle injury. Serge Ibaka is still suspended for nearly knocking out Marquese Chriss. Toronto will be led by Pascal Siakam, with its hopes still set on snatching the top record in the association from the Milwaukee Bucks.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET from the Air Canada Centre. Let’s take a look at some prevailing storylines in tonight’s game.
Kevin Knox still draws a solid matchup
Leonard missing tonight’s game spoils Fizdale’s hope to have Kevin Knox square off against LeBron and Kawhi on back-to-back nights, but the rookie draws a strong consolation prize in Siakam. A candidate for this season’s Most Improved Player award, Siakam has emerged as the third-most important piece on a team contending for its first-ever Finals appearance.
While Knox will likely not match up with Pascal on most possessions, the forwards should be guarding each other for a decent portion of the game. Siakam’s length and versatility on both ends of the court should be a good challenge for the 19-year-old.
Jeremy Lin: revenge game?
Since signing with Toronto on February 13, Lin has struggled to produce consistently, shooting only 36 percent from the field and 17 percent from deep. A matchup with Lin’s former team presents the opportunity for a get-right game.
Possessing many turnstiles on the perimeter, New York has defensive deficiencies that play right into Lin’s strengths. His ability to open up the offense with penetration is the root of what made Linsanity, and a matchup with Emmanuel Mudiay may help him put together a vintage performance.
If Smith Jr. remains out tonight, Mudiay should have an opportunity to return the favor on the other end of the court, as Lin has never been known for his ability to guard opposing point guards. While Toronto boasts an elite defense overall, it is imperative for Mudiay to come close to repeating his 28-point, eight-assist performance against the Lakers for the Knicks to have a chance of winning tonight’s game.
Battle of point centers
The primary facilitators in tonight’s game could be found in each team’s starting center, as DeAndre Jordan faces off against Marc Gasol. Averaging seven assists in his past three games, Jordan has done a fantastic job of getting his teammates in rhythm. Playing through DJ’s strengths as a passer is both beneficial for the team today, and helps fortify the argument for keeping Jordan after this season, as this skill has helped the Fiz kids get in rhythm over New York’s recent stretch.
Gasol enters tonight’s game boasting similar numbers, averaging 5.3 assists over his past three games. Always known as a crafty player, Gasol can befuddle defenses in many different ways. Whichever center does a better job of limiting their opponent’s ability to dish will go a long way in stifling the offense for a prolonged stretch of the game.
The Knicks are still significant underdogs despite the absences of Leonard, Ibaka, and potentially Lowry, and will need a performance similar to yesterday’s matinee in order to pull off a victory.
- Hezonja made his return from a leg injury yesterday and did not disappoint, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds. His ability to make his biggest highlights against the league’s biggest stars remains to be Hezonja’s greatest ability by far.
- DSJ (back), Ntilikina (groin), and Vonleh (ankle) remain questionable for tonight’s contest.