The Toronto Raptors, on a four-game win streak of their own, are hoping to put an end to the New York Knicks’ current eight-game streak as they visit Madison Square Garden on an early Saturday matchup.
The fourth-seeded New York Knicks (33-27) are looking good, feeling good, and playing good. After beating the Atlanta Hawks 137-127 in an overtime duel, New York is now in pole position to avoid the play-in tournament and comfortably make the playoffs as a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. For once, everything feels good in New York and the Knicks are continuing to look like a team with a ton of promise, heading towards their first playoff appearance since the 2012–13 season.
And all eyes are on the Knicks right now. Between various Knicks fans celebrating following the Atlanta game, to Lakers forward LeBron James tweeting that “the league is simply better off when the Knicks are winning,” the Knicks have positive vibes. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski also did a podcast with Julius Randle, so it’s safe to say that the media and the NBA are taking notice of New York’s recent winning and good fortune.
Now, all they need to do is continue to win games and preserve their winning streak.
Enter the Toronto Raptors (25-34). The Raptors will have their own reasons for playing hard in this game, currently sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference but only half a game behind the play-in tournament and a potentially full-strength roster. Chris Boucher is the only notable contributor on the injured list after he left mid-way through Toronto’s last matchup against the Brooklyn Nets with a knee injury.
What happened last time?
I mention the injuries because The Knicks defeated the Raptors 102-96 early in their winning streak, but that was without OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet. After getting off to an elite defensive start, the Knicks only conceded the lead in the third quarter before putting it away and moving on. Julius Randle finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, and five assists, while R.J. Barrett finished with 19 points and five rebounds.
Boucher excelled in a limited role, tallying 17 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks while sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr. poured in a team-high 23 points. Nothing outstanding, but it’s hard to play outstanding when you’re missing a key initiator in VanVleet and one of the best defensive wings in the league in Anunoby. Both Anunoby and VanVleet will be key on the defensive end, as every Knick start had a positive plus-minus in their last encounter.
After facing a banged-up Atlanta team that only got more hampered as Trae Young exited the game, it’ll be interesting to see how the Knicks hold up against a Toronto team with a need to win to maintain their playoff hopes alive, as well as a roster that’s both healthy and heating up at the right time. Between Anunoby and VanVleet returning and rookie Malachi Flynn getting proper playing time, the Raptors could be a spicy team to watch in the final 12 games of the season.
Key points to watch in the matchup
The defensive matchups: As mentioned, this might be Barrett’s hardest matchup—can he keep up his shooting against legitimate perimeter defense of Anunoby, VanVleet, and Trent Jr. the entire game? On the other side, Randle should have a relatively easy matchup against Khem Birch and Boucher if the latter does play. Boucher is an excellent help defender but could struggle in a one-on-one situation against a go-to guy like Randle.
The shooting: How does New York’s spacing hold up if Alec Burks is still out? Reggie Bullock continues to remain a knockdown shooter, while Barrett and Randle will continue to space the floor and knock down threes. Quiet as kept, Quickley has knocked down eight of his last 13 attempts, so the Knicks, while without their stud reserve wing, should be able to maintain balance on the floor offensively.
Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. ET and will be broadcasted on both ESPN and MSG Network.