4 min read

Knicks vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer

Knicks (6-6, 3-2 road) vs. Thunder (7-5, 5-2 home)

TV: FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST

Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.5 (2nd), Knicks – 104.0 (12th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 105.2 (18th), Knicks – 103.3 (15th)

Four games without Kevin Durant, 2-2 in that span. The losses haven’t really been that surprising as Boston and Memphis are both really good defensively. It has been victories in that span that have been more worrisome. The Thunder played the two worst teams in the NBA at home during that time and haven’t necessarily dominated like the should have. The rosters that compile the 76ers and Pelicans rival those of some D-League teams. And yet, the Thunder found themselves down by 6 to begin the 2nd quarter against the 76ers and found themselves with only a three point lead with less than three minutes to play against New Orleans. They won both games behind the greatness that is Russell Westbrook (32 points, 13 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game in those two games), but it really shouldn’t have come to that point. The bench play has been inconsistent at best, atrocious at worst. And the ability to maintain leads has become worrisome. They say every team in the league makes runs, but against the Thunder, its seems like EVERY team makes runs and those runs don’t seem to stop until its too late.

On the flip side though, I remember how the Thunder competed when they were a bare-bone unit in the early parts of last season. They lost to the Rockets, Warriors, and Grizzlies by a combined 11 points when they were without Kevin Durant and Westbrook. Sometimes, scrappy teams with nothing to lose give it their all and scare a more talented team into a close game. I highly doubt the the Warriors and Rockets gave a second thought to their game against the D-League Thunder early in the season when they were competing in the Western Conference Finals. Sometimes, in the NBA, a win is a win, and you move on.

This is the first of two meetings between the Thunder and New York Knicks. The teams split the season series last year with each team winning on its home floor. When you look back at last season and parse through the schedule, one of the most glaring losses is the one to New York. This was a Knicks team that went on to win 17 games and featured the likes of Langston Galloway, Lance Thomas, and Andrea Bargnani’s expiring contract. When the season ended, and the Thunder were tied with the New Orleans Pelicans who held the tie-breaker for the final spot in the playoffs, that late season loss to the Knicks stood out like a sore thumb.

The Opponent

The Knicks come into the game with a 6-6 record, having won their last two games. It’s amazing what a little bit of health and some real NBA players can do for a team. With Carmelo Anthony coming back from knee surgery, the offseason acquisitions of Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez, and the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks are finally competitive once again.

After frustratingly trying to implement the triangle offense last season, the Knicks now seem to have the pieces in place to run the system effectively. The scoring on the team is more balanced, as evidenced by 9 players averaging 6 points or more per game. The biggest change on the team has been on the defensive end. The Knicks are giving up only 98.2 points per game, which ranks 9th in the NBA. Having Lopez and Porzingis on the front line, has allowed the Knicks’ guards to be more aggressive on the perimeter. Opponents are only shooting 30.3% from deep against the Knicks, which is second in the league.

Anthony is averaging only 23.1 points per game, but has been more efficient in terms of play-making. He’s averaging 3.8 assists per game, which would tie a career high, while only giving the ball up 1.9 times per game, a projected career-low. Porzingis has been surprisingly good in his rookie campaign. Initially panned by the New York fanbase, Porzingis has proven that he belongs in the conversation for rookie of the year. He is leading the Knicks in rebounding and is second in scoring. In the middle, Robin Lopez has been the defensive anchor the Knicks have coveted since they traded Tyson Chandler away last season. Off the bench, Langston Galloway, Jerami Grant, Derrick Williams, and Kyle O’Quinn give the Knicks a physical edge over most other benches.

3 Big Things

1. Attack the Paint

The Knicks’ wings are extremely aggressive in attacking the perimeter. They contest 3-point shots with a gusto and try to force teams to take lone twos. Even though they are long, Porzingis and Lopez aren’t necessarily known as rim-protectors. In addition, that aggressiveness has led to the Knicks giving up 27.8 free throw attempts per game, which is 2nd most in the league. With someone like Russell Westbrook (and dare I say Dion Waiters) attacking the interior, this could set up for a game where Westbrook shoots 12 or more free throws.

2. Carmelo Anthony

With Kevin Durant sitting out this game, the Thunder are faced with a bit of a conundrum in finding someone to guard Anthony. Andre Roberson will likely be given that task, but Anthony is a lot stronger than Roberson and will likely take him to the post. Serge Ibaka may guard him some, but Anthony will likely take him to the perimeter where Ibaka is not very comfortable. As strange as it may sound, the guy most suited to guard someone like Anthony is probably Josh Huestis. Unfortunately, he’s never played in an NBA game in his life and is currently in Frisco, Tx, preparing to play the Texas Legends on Saturday night. Oh, where for art thou Perry Jones????

3. Measuring Stick

Tonight will be a good test to see how this team, as currently constructed with Durant out, competes with the rest of the league. The Thunder struggled to put the Pelicans, and to a lesser degree, the 76ers away. And they whittled against the Grizzlies and Celtics down the stretch. The Knicks fall in between those four teams in terms of competitiveness. It should be a good game, but as has been the M.O. with this team, it all depends on which team shows up.

COTN: “I miss the COTN” by everybody and their alts