Thunder vs. Knicks: Pregame Primer
Thunder (10-8, 3-4 road) vs. Knicks (8-8, 7-2 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 6:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 102.6 (16th), Knicks – 103.6 (15th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.3 (11th), Knicks – 107.2 (27th)
The hardest thing for a team to do once they’ve gotten out of a slump is to continue moving in a positive direction. The Oklahoma City Thunder recently went 3-7 in their previous 10 games before finally putting together a full game against the Detroit Pistons. In those previous 10 games, the Thunder were a disjointed bunch that abandoned the things that were working for them during their surprisingly hot start to begin the season.
During their 6-1 start, the Thunder were winning games on the defensive end of their floor. They were usually ranked in the top 3 in defensive rating, which allowed them to find ways to win games despite their offense being ranked in the bottom 10. In the 10 games after the 6-1 start, the team’s stats completely flip-flopped, with the offense becoming a top-10 unit during that span, and the defense sinking down to the bottom of the league.
- First 7 games: Off. Rtg – 97.3 Def. Rtg – 94.9
- Next 10 games: Off. Rtg – 105.7 Def. Rtg – 108.5
The worst part about the 7 losses during that 10 game span was the fact that four of them were by 6 points or less. During this stretch, the Thunder proved they were rarely out of games. They did a surprisingly good job of cutting deficits and getting back into games. But sometimes, the time and energy spent on catching up can lead to mental errors and defensive break-downs in the game’s most important moments at the end. For all their deficiencies, though, the Thunder could easily have been 7-3 during this stretch, instead of 3-7.
Season Series Preview
This is the first of two meetings this season between the Thunder and Knicks. The two teams split their season series last year, with each team winning on the road. Both games were close, with one of the them going into overtime.
The New York Knicks come into this game with an 8-8 record. As has been the case for the past several seasons, they continue to be a baffling conundrum. They have one of the best scorers in the game in Carmelo Anthony. They have one of the greatest basketball minds running the operation in Phil Jackson. And they have a unique, young talent in Kristaps Porzingis who is just now learning how to dominate in the NBA. And yet, with all that working for them, they continue to be an average to below average team. This offseason saw the Knicks bring in Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah from the Bulls, but those moves have yet to bear much fruit in the early parts of this season.
Surrounding those four players is a collection of players that just doesn’t seem to work. Courtney Lee was brought in to be the floor-spacer, but his addition still had the desired effect on the floor as thought. Even though he is shooting nearly 42% from deep, he’s only taking 3 attempts per game. For some context, Andre Roberson averages about 2.6 three-point attempts per game. Brandon Jennings is fine as a back-up point guard, but you can tell he’s still working himself back from the Achilles injury he suffered last season. Justin Holiday, Willy Hernangomez, and Kyle O’Quinn round out the rest of the rotation for the Knicks. Lance Thomas will not play in this game due to an ankle injury (and with that goes the possibility of a revenge game from him).
- Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Guarding Porzingis
Imagine Kevin Durant, if Durant were 4 inches taller. That’s basically what you get with Porzingis. The Knicks’ hybrid center/forward is just now realizing is potential, in this his second year, and it’s beginning to pay dividends on the floor. He’s currently 2nd on the team in scoring at nearly 21 points per game on 40% shooting from deep. He’s adding in 7.3 boards and 1.3 blocks per game. He’s, as was mentioned last season, a unicorn.
So how do you defend said unicorn. Luckily, Steven Adams and Domantas Sabonis are both mobile enough to stick with Porzingis on the perimeter. The problem may be if Porzingis decides to go to the post. He’ll likely tower over Sabonis whose lack of wingspan will make him a moot defensive threat. What I see the Thunder doing is putting Adams on Porzingis and taking their chances with Sabonis on Joakim Noah.2. Rebounding
The Knicks are basically middle of the road on every stat except for rebounding, where they are top 10. The height of Porzingis and Noah allow them to control the boards, while Carmelo Anthony, as one of the bigger small forwards in the league, is able to carve out space and grab his own share of rebounds. The Thunder will have to rebound as a team and stayed disciplined as far as boxing out is concerned.3. Westbrook vs. Rose
It’s a shame injuries have done to Rose what they have done. Derrick Rose, at his peak, had the athleticism to match with Westbrook. Now, Westbrook is in a class of his own. The match-ups have still been good the last two seasons, but the fact remains that Westbrook is now significantly better than Rose.