Last week, I said the New York Knicks had to win all three games to prove they’re a contender. After a heartbreaker on Tuesday in Miami, the Knicks were able to beat the Wizards on Friday. Then on Saturday night, the Knicks handled the Rockets. Coming up this week are a few teams the Knicks can absolutely beat, and four games that will dictate how the rest of their year will go. Unfortunately, Mitchell Robinson will be out for around six weeks, and replacing him will be a big challenge for Tom Thibodeau. Without Robinson, it’ll be a tough road ahead for the New York Knicks.
Knicks vs Hawks (2-15)
Let’s not kid ourselves, the most effective way to keep the Hawks from winning is stopping Trae Young. If the New York Knicks can keep him at bay, this game is a lot simpler. That’s the easiest way to beat the Hawks, but the hardest thing to actually do. The third-year point guard is having the best season of his young career. Young is averaging 26.5 points, 9.2 assists, and getting to the free-throw line at a James Harden clip. Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said earlier this year, that the way Young draws fouls isn’t good for basketball. I completely agree with Nash, not being a Hawks fan, it irritates you. Young initiates the contact most times, and more times than not throws himself back into the defender.
Young has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor, keeping a man on him is a must at all times and anywhere. When Trae Young isn’t doing the scoring, the only other real offensive threat is John Collins. The twenty-three-year-old power forward is going to be matched up with Julius Randle in a matchup that could determine who wins. Collins’ 18.1 points are the second-most on the Hawks, and Collins shoots more effectively than Young. When the Hawks are at their best, they use Collins in high screens to create open looks for Young. If these two are on their game, they could easily score half of Atlanta’s points combined.
Old School Report
The X-Factor to this game is Clint Capela. In terms of non-three-point shooting centers, Capela might be the best one. Capela has a 22.33 player efficiency rating, which is second to Young’s and is a double-double machine. The NBA leader in offensive rebounds, and overall rebounds, Capela, snags 4.59 offensive rebounds a game. Without Robinson, that number could go way up and kill the Knicks. Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson will certainly have their hands full with Capela.
Knicks vs Magic (2-17)
When the Knicks head to Orlando, the Magic will be very undermanned. Aaron Gordon and Markelle Fultz are still out, and the Magic have a lot of game-time decisions. The last time these two teams went up against each other, I wrote about how the Knicks needed to stop Nikola Vucevic in order to win. For the most part, the Knicks did, they held Vucevic to his season point average and won by seven points. The Magic are in an interesting situation. If Cole Anthony and Evan Fournier don’t play, I don’t think the Magic win. If those two do play, the Magic have a better chance, but the Knicks likely still pull it out. Orlando going into the year appeared to be a playoff-caliber team, but now a rebuild could be imminent. Besides Vucevic, I feel like Orlando’s roster is built of a lot of role players.
In order for the Knicks to win, they can’t play down to their competition. New York needs to take Orlando seriously and take care of business. A player I really want to see play well on Wednesday is RJ Barrett. Barrett needs to string together a few quality games. Barrett’s playing time has gone down in each of the last three games and might be losing his spot in the rotation. For now, Barrett’s spot is safe, but he has to shoot better. In the month of February, Barrett hasn’t scored more than twenty points in a game and only shot above forty-two percent twice.
These are games where you learn about Thibs’ thoughts on the team. Even though I anticipate the New York Knicks to get the win, it’d be interesting to see the Knicks fall behind and see who he uses to play catch up.
Knicks vs Spurs (2-20)
After an odd 2020 for San Antonio, Gregg Popovich has gotten the Spurs back in playoff contention. This team has one real superstar DeMar DeRozan, and other than that is an all-hands-on-deck team. Seven different Spurs average double digits, and the bench is on point. DeRozan is having a resurgent 2020-2021, with 20.3 points 5.1 rebounds, and 6.8 assists. DeRozan had a bumpy first two seasons with the Spurs but finally appears to have bought into the Spurs system. With many talented pieces around him, the Spurs appear to be back.
Starting point guard Dejounte Murray will cause a problem for the Knicks on both sides of the ball. On offense, he’s faster than any other Knick and on defense, he’s going to pick their pocket. With Murray’s 1.5 steals per game, seeing him against Immanuel Quickley and Derrick Rose will be a treat.
You could argue Patty Mills is as good at his job as any point guard in the NBA. Even though Mills doesn’t light up any stat, his player efficiency off the bench is ridiculous. Mills’ 15.35 PER is fourth on the Spurs. When the Knicks bench comes in, they have to account for Mills being a very adequate second rotation leader. When Rose and Quickley come in they need to match Patty Mill’s energy. Look for the benches to be the deciding factor in this game. If the New York Knicks can get everybody on the bench to contribute, this is a winnable game for the Knicks. Another must-stop is Jakob Poeltl, similar to Clint Capela, he doesn’t pose any threat from three. Poeltl could possibly seal the win for the Spurs.
Knicks vs Timberwolves (2-21)
There’s no such thing as an easy win in the NBA, but of all the games the Knicks have this week, this is the easiest game. Without D’Angelo Russell and Jarrett Culver, the Knicks could be too much for Karl Anthony Towns to handle. Not that you need any motivation to win, expect Thibs to bring out all the stops on Sunday. This will be his first game against the Timberwolves since getting fired, and you know he’ll want to win this one. KAT only returned from COVID this week, so he’s still not at full strength. The main player the Knicks have to stop is Malik Beasley.
2020 First pick Anthony Edwards will be in action, and this will be his first trip to MSG as a pro. With the injury to Russell, Edwards will get the start, and slightly diminish their bench. Someone who won’t get the start is Naz Reid, the center has been impressive this season. Since Towns’ return, Reid’s playing time has gone down. I expect Reid to play more this week, and contribute to Minnesota because of their recent injuries.
This is a game I want to see Reggie Bullock and Alec Burks be heavily involved in. Both have similar games and play important roles on this young team. The Knicks need their best wing defenders to Similar to the game against Orlando, the Knicks can’t play down to the inferior competition. Keep the mental mistakes to a minimum, and stay in a rhythm this game will go right for the Knicks.
Week Wrap Up
I know I wrote a lot about the benches the Knicks face this week, it’s imperative they stop the opposing second units. Since adding Derrick Rose, the Knicks bench has been very productive, and that has to continue this week. If the New York Knicks are for real, they have to beat up on non-playoff teams. Like every week with this team, we’ll learn a lot and hopefully get some wins.