The Knicks look to create some separation from the Hawks in the standings, as they travel down to the Peach State for the first time this year.

The New York Knicks (25-21) head down to the ATL for their first of two trips this season to take on the streaking Atlanta Hawks (23-22), who have won four straight games. The first two games of this season’s series at Madison Square Garden weren’t particularly close, with the Hawks winning by 13 on November 2nd and the Knicks winning by 24 on December 7th.

Although it feels like the Hawks have had the upper hand in this newfound rivalry based on their drubbing of the ‘Bockers in the playoffs, since the beginning of the 2020-21 season, the Knicks have dominated the regular season series, winning seven of nine games, per Land of Basketball.

Atlanta had been having a disappointing and noisy season, up until a week or so ago, but a recent surge has resulted in them being only 1.5 games back of the Knicks in the standings. The alleged rift between Trae Young and Nate McMillan has been a hot topic throughout this season and although it was downplayed as a “miscommunication,” there were reports that McMillan, who has been a head coach in this league on and off since 2000, was considering resigning from his position, per Shams Charania. Young is having his worst shooting season, percentage-wise, since his rookie year from both the field and behind the arc, per ESPN Stats, and can at times be a bit of a diva, but it seems like for now that the Young-McMillan drama has subsided.

At this juncture, the Hawks are rolling and playing up to expectations that they had when they acquired Dejounte Murray in one of the best off-season acquisitions any team made. New York will have their hands full, as they usually do with the Hawks’ backcourt, even with Young questionable to play this evening with ankle soreness.

Big Man Concerns

With Mitchell Robinson undergoing thumb surgery yesterday and sidelined for at least three weeks, the Knicks will be much thinner at the center position this evening. Atlanta currently ranks 10th in the NBA in points in the paint, per Team Rankings, and boasts excellent talent at that position, with Clint Capela, Onyeka Okongwu, and John Collins, all of whom average seven-plus rebounds per game and can score at a decent clip. Capela in particular has been a thorn in the Knicks’ side, averaging 13.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game in his career against New York, per StatMuse. It will be imperative for Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims to bring their A games tonight in Mitch’s absence as the Hawks can really blow this game open if they are able to get easy buckets inside, control the glass, and kick it out to guys like Young, Murray and Bogdan Bogdanovic for three.

Preying On Birds

Julius Randle has been on an absolute tear the last couple of months and is a huge key to the Knicks potentially emerging victorious tonight. Randle has been very good against Atlanta this year, averaging 24 points on 37.5% from behind the arc, per ESPN Stats. Randle should be an All-Star and has elevated his game in many ways, including minimizing his poor shot selection and doing his best to involve others. Randle’s turnaround has been remarkable and is a huge reason why the Knicks are having a good season.

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