Former MVP Russell Westbrook is out and the Knicks face Paul George and the Thunder in OKC following a rejiggered lineup.

It can be argued that Sunday’s loss to the Aaron Gordon-less Orlando Magic was the Knicks’ worst one this season. The 26-point beatdown in which many things went wrong was certainly not a good look for New York.

The Knicks (4-10) got a much-needed few days’ break before they hit the court again, and it won’t get any easier, as they prepare to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (8-5) down at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. EST.

It will be the first of two meetings between both teams this season. Last year, the Knicks and Thunder split the two-game series, with each team winning at home by double figures.


A Quieter Storm

Oklahoma City’s one-man army, Russell Westbrook, is sidelined yet again with an ankle injury. Westbrook, who was leading the team in points (24.1 per game) and assists (8.9 per game), has missed four-consecutive games going into Wednesday night and six showdowns overall due to injury.

Although Dennis Schröder has found a way to put up respectable numbers and fill in admirably for Westbrook, proving that his stats weren’t all just a product of inflation from being the go-to guy in Atlanta, it just hasn’t been the same. Schröder put up good numbers in his seven games on the bench and continued to perform well in Westbrook’s absence. So far, he’s averaging 16.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.3 steals.

Also, the Thunder does still have Paul George, who seems to be filling in the role as the “triple-double hunter.” George enters Wednesday night with a streak of three games in which he’s averaging over 20 points, 10 boards, and six assists. He’s coming off of a blistering 32-point performance, which included a 6-of-10 mark from deep, on Monday night versus the Suns.

As good as these two have been, it’s clear that this Thunder team is best with Westbrook. Oklahoma City is 3-3 without Westbrook. In his absence, it has averaged 99.8 points per game and has eclipsed the 100-point mark only twice.

When Westbrook is on the floor, the team averages 118.1 points through seven games. That’s almost a 20-point drop-off in production, in a seven-game span where the Thunder was 5-2 with him active.

Time to Bounce Back

As for the Knicks, it’ll be interesting to see how they rebound from an ugly loss where it felt like very few things were going right.

For Allonzo Trier, who’s been taking the league by storm as an undrafted rookie free agent, it has been quite the start so far. He’s provided highlight plays on both ends of the court. However, the loss to the Magic was something that was bound to happen—a rocky outing on the court. So far, he’s made it look easy, but against the Magic, he was a bit underwhelming. Through 22 minutes, he had nine points off of 3-of-8 shooting, five rebounds, four assists, and three blocks but tallied four turnovers and got into foul trouble with four of those. It was a bit underwhelming and more mistake-filled than his recent game against Toronto in which he posted similar scoring numbers. As a rookie—and a NBA player—law of averages had this coming sooner or later. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds. Is it just a temporary slide, or will he be hampered down with start of a slump?

The last time he posted similar low-scoring, high-turnover, and fouling numbers was against Washington, and he was able to bounce back with a 21-point game the following night against Chicago.

Trier isn’t the only one looking to pick things up. Tim Hardaway Jr. tied a season-low seven points in the loss to Orlando. He was just 2-of-12 overall, including an ugly 0-for-6 from deep. As one of the focal points for the Knicks offense, New York can’t afford him to disappear. Then there’s Frank Ntilikina, who posted his second 0-fer on the floor as a starter. He is coming off of a scoreless performance against the Magic in which he also had two turnovers and never saw game action for the rest of the night. Keep an eye out for how the Knicks utilize Ntilikina after putting him in the doghouse on Sunday night, and how he responds.

Apart from the individual performances, there were plaguing issues that affected the team as a whole against Orlando. Outside of Mitchell Robinson’s insane nine-block performance, it was a lackluster game for the New York starting five, as they combined for just 20 points and shot a collective 8-for-28 (28.6 percent). Meanwhile, the New York bench combined for 69 points.

It wasn’t all bad news last time…

Kevin Knox found his footing again, tying a season-high 17 point mark that he previously had against Brooklyn before his ankle injury. He was eased back into the rotation upon his return and the Orlando game was a reassuring game for both his confidence and the Knicks.

Although 4-for-11 isn’t exactly efficient work, he was able to get to the line and be effective in other areas to pick things up. The game was good enough to catapult him in the starting five.

Per the NY Post‘s Marc Berman, the Knicks will insert Knox and Emmanuel Mudiay in place of Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson.

That makes it a starting five of Knox, Mudiay, Hardaway, Robinson, and Noah Vonleh for Wednesday night.

Quick Hits

  • Watch out for those active hands, Oklahoma City is averaging a NBA-best 11.5 steals per game.
  • The Thunder is ranked No. 2 in the entire league for defensive rating, with only the Boston Celtics ahead of them.

 

  • As mentioned earlier, Westbrook is out for the Thunder. For the Knicks, Courtney Lee is still inactive with a neck injury. Lance Thomas is recovering from knee surgery.