Coming off of a very important week on the West Coast, the New York Knicks play another gauntlet of games this week.
Tuesday night the Knicks travel to Utah, playing the Jazz for the second time this season. The Knicks were victorious on January 6th, winning 112-100. New York has the blueprint to beat Utah, but will that plan work twice? Last time, the Knicks played stellar defense, holding Utah to a 44 percent shooting percentage, also holding all of the Jazz starters to under 20 points each. Since losing to the Knicks, Utah has been the hottest team in the NBA. Winners of their last eight, the Jazz look to avenge their last defeat. During the winning streak, the Jazz’s main scorer has been New York native, Donovan Mitchell. In his last eight games, Mitchell has only shot below thirty percent from the field once. In six of those eight, Mitchell has scored at least 25 points and is leading the Jazz to the top of the West.
After getting called out by Shaquille O’Neal on Thursday, Mitchell has the extra motivation to keep it going.
Beating Utah again will be a challenge for New York. Immanuel Quickley didn’t have much of an impact the last time, he will have to on Tuesday. Quickley has been one of the Knicks’ best players lately and has fans clamoring to start. One thing I’d like Quickley to do more is facilitate. Quickley has only had one game with more than five assists, and that has to change. Payton averages 4.1 assists per game, that’s why I believe he starts. Utah has one of the deepest teams in the NBA, and that depth will give Utah an advantage.
This will be the third team these two teams lock horns in the 2020-2021 season. Fifteen days earlier, when the Knicks and Cavs last played, Andre Drummond was a problem for New York. Drummond dominated and won the game for Cleveland. Drummond had a monster double-double, putting up 33 points and 23 rebounds. Mitchell Robinson and Tom Thibodeau can’t let this happen again. One of the main reasons for some Knicks losses this year are the points Robinson allows. There’s been a handful of times where he gets torched by the opposing center. Drummond and Al Horford are perfect examples. To be fair, Mitchell Robinson has had less foul trouble this season, but the ferocity of his first two seasons, isn’t there as much I feel. For the Knicks to win, Robinson has to outwork Drummond on the glass and stay out of foul trouble.
Another player the Knicks have to shutdown is Collin Sexton. After Sexton being out the last game, the Knicks look to repeat what they did the first time. On December 30th, Sexton had his worst game of the year, and if the Knicks want to win again this has to be done again. What worked so well that game was the constant pressure. New York always had a man on Sexton, and never game him easy shots. After his career game against Brooklyn on Friday, I anticipate double teams to be very common this Friday. If New York’s number one defense can hold Drummond and Sexton to below twenty points each, they’ll win. Tom Thibodeau would much rather have Darius Garland and Cedi Osman beat him, rather than Sexton and Drummond. Expect pressure on those two, and constant movement to try and confuse Cleveland.
In a Sunday Matinee at The Garden, the Knicks look to try and upset the Clippers in the final game of the week. Beating Los Angeles will be a challenge for the Knicks. Both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are playing at MVP levels this season and will be a handful to contain. Paul George has a 23.98 player efficiency rating, which puts him at sixteenth in the league. After all of the ridicule in 2020, Paul George has been super consistent this season. George’s 51.5 field goal percentage, 50 three-point percentage, and 91.8 free throw percentage are all career highs. Leonard has also played like his usual basketball cyborg self. Leonard ranks fifth at player efficiency, with a 27.46 rating. He could also be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. Averaging 2.1 steals and 0.7 blocks, he’s approaching his career-high in those categories.
Similar to other games where the Knicks have played two superstars, they don’t have enough bodies to match up with the Clippers. The Clippers average almost half of their points from the three, and the Knicks don’t have many wing defenders. Reggie Bullock is the best defender they have out there, but he’s no match for the All-Star duo. I feel the Knicks keeping this game close, will be a challenge. New York has surprised people with certain wins early this season, I don’t see Sunday as one of those though. If this game is out of reach early, I’d like the young guys to play as much as possible. If the Clippers go up by twenty in the second, let Randle rest and play Obi Toppin for a while. With a few months until the Trade Deadline, let’s see if we have anyone to sell or not.
Just like I said last week, this is another big test for this young Knicks team. Playing the two best teams in the West proves what kind of fight is in this locker room. The Knicks answered the bell for the most part last week, let’s see if that performance repeats itself.