Last week, the Knicks finished their West Coast trip and returned home. New York hung tough against some of the best in the Western Conference, but it still resulted in a 1-3 week. New York looks to fare better in the first games of February.
Week Game 1 & 2: Knicks vs Bulls (2/1 and 2/3)
On Monday and Wednesday night, the Knicks will play against the Bulls in the Windy City. The Bulls are very similar to the Knicks, in terms of how they play. Under first-year coach Billy Donovan, the Bulls have been able to keep it close in every game. The 7-11 Bulls, are a few bad bounces away from being 11-7. The main reason for the improved play, is seventh year shooting guard, Zach LaVine. LaVine is in the middle of a breakout season. Averaging a career-high 26.9 points, LaVine has willed this team to wins. New York has been rumored to be interested in LaVine’s services, so that dynamic will be interesting to see this week. Stopping LaVine will fall on RJ Barrett, who did an impressive job on Kawhi Leonard on Sunday.
Another key matchup in these games will be, Julius Randle versus Lauri Markkanen. In a smaller sample size for Markkanen, his stats are very similar to Randle’s this season. The two power forwards will score, for New York to win they need Randle to score how he has been. On the flip side, Chicago will need Markkanen to take some of the pressure of LaVine and handle some of the scoring. Stopping Markkanen will be an interesting challenge. For as similar as he and Randle play, Markkanen is much quicker, and a bigger threat from beyond the arch. I predict whichever team’s second scoring option will win these two games.
Monday- Knicks: 98 Bulls: 102
Wednesday- Knicks: 114 Bulls: 106
Knicks vs Trail Blazers (2-6)
Last Sunday, the Knicks almost pulled the upset in the Rose City, the keys to this game will be the same as that game, getting Immanuel Quickley involved early, and stopping Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The Knicks will also need to find a way to break through the zone Portland likes to run. In the last meeting, RJ Barrett had no presence. January 24th, was Barrett’s worst game, only having eight points and his plus-minus on the game was -8. Like the games in Chicago, Barrett will need to be a big part of the offense, or else the Knicks will flounder.
The benches will are world apart, in terms of talent. Portland’s second line is one of the best and could secure the win for them. Gary Trent Jr. comes in for McCollum and is as good at his job as anyone in the NBA. The third-year guard averages 12.7 off the bench, Trent also brings the intensity on the defensive end. Trent holds opponents to an overall shooting percentage of 45.2, and an impressive 38.2 percent on shots longer than 15 feet. The Knicks almost cracked the code in Portland, under the light of MSG, which presents a better chance of winning. I ultimately think they’ll wind up short, but like most games in the early Thibs era, New York will hang tough.
Trail Blazers: 114
Knicks vs Heat (2-7)
Predicting the Knicks vs Heat is tough, because of the game being a week away, it’s hard to predict who will play for Miami and who won’t. Either way, I like the Knicks chances against the Eastern Conference champions. If everyone comes back for Miami, I don’t think the chemistry will be there right away. This is going to be a very good game to watch, both teams play with a 90s-Esque physicality, and don’t back down. Stopping Jimmy Butler will be the main focus on defense. You know exactly what you’ll get with Jimmy Buckets. A player who doesn’t care if he’s the one scoring thirty, or if he’s the one passing the ball and getting back on defense. RJ Barrett will likely stay on Butler, look for Thibs to put Bullock on Butler as well. Besides Butler, no one knows his game better than Tom Thibodeau.
Some other interesting matchups are, Mitchell Robinson versus Bam Adebayo, and if he’s healthy Tyler Herro vs Immanuel Quickley. I mentioned Herro, if he plays, he adds, even more, three-point shooting to this team. Miami will try and kill the Knicks from deep, and New York can’t get in a three-point shootout against them. Both teams have big men that like and entertain contact, meaning this game will be won on the glass and the free-throw line. The Knicks have a solid team and I like what they’ve been doing, I just think Miami will be too deep on Sunday for the Knicks to win.
After a losing week, New York has to win at least two of these games. The best way for the Knicks to win more is starting Immanuel Quickley. The rookie is the most exciting player when he’s on the court, and he has to be out there more. If he keeps getting involved and performing, he’ll be there in no time. Once Quickley is starting, I think the Knicks take the next step.