“Say, let’s run an iso for Melo… just kidding!”
My evil plans were dashed last night by Courtney Lee! While the Atlanta Hawks were BazeGazing and getting ready to head for the airport, their hosts tonight, the New York Knicks (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, MSG Network in NYC), were in Chicago and just seconds away from having to play overtime with the Bulls.
Lee would have none of it, fouling and sending Kris Dunn to the free throw line for what would become the Bulls’ tank-busting baskets. The loss in regulation got the Knicks (12-13, 9th in the East, but NBA-worst 1-8 on the road) back in Manhattan earlier than I’d hoped, but they’ll arrive tonight at The World’s Most (In)Famous Arena a little weary, and very surly.
No one comes into today’s affair saltier than Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek, who was peeved about falling behind to the now 5-20 Bulls by double digits in the opening quarter. “The game was lost way in the beginning,” Coach Horny told the New York Post and postgame media.
Kristaps Porzingis concurred. “We and I can’t start the game like that and I take full responsibility for the loss.” Hornacek added, “We come out at the start not ready to play and let them get out to a big lead. There’s no excuse for that. We talked about that – to hit them hard at the beginning of the game. Instead, we were floating out there.”
That wasn’t the case in ATL back on November 24, went New York swam laps around the Hawks with a 39-24 opening frame, led by Lee’s 13 first-quarter points. Yet the Knicks still lost, 116-104, despite the best efforts of former Hawk Tim Hardaway, Jr. (22 points, 10 in the fourth quarter).
As demonstrated in last night’s shockingly thrilling 117-110 win and in the last victory over the Knicks, the Hawks (6-19) are satisfied allowing two or three players to go off in hopes they can throttle the rest of the opposing cast. While THJ, Kristaps Porzingis and Lee combined for 76 of New York’s 110 points in Atlanta, the other six Knicks combined to shoot 12-for-31 while shooting just one free throw. Junior has missed the past four games while rehabbing a stress-fracture injury in his tibia, and won’t be around to save the Knicks if they fall behind late again tonight.
The Knicks want to again pounce on the Hawks early, and this time, they’ll make heavy use out of Enes Kanter (NBA-high 16.7 O-Reb%, point+rebound double-doubles in four of his last five games), who missed the last Hawks-Knicks matchup and is hoped to wear down Atlanta, the league’s worst defensive rebounding team (NBA-low 73.8 team D-Reb%).
The Hawks’ reliance on wings like last night’s late-game heroes, Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince, to secure opponent’s missed shots leave capable bigs like Nikola Vucevic (4-for-6 3FGs yesterday) and the Porzstar (4-for-8 3FGs @ ATL on Nov. 24), to camp around the top of the key for open jumpers. However, that often tends to neutralize backcourt teammates who are on the floor to take those same shots, especially when those players (Doug McDermott, for example) aren’t rebounding or defending to supplement the big men’s offensive contributions.
Jarrett Jack was the box score beneficiary of the Knicks’ stars going bombs-away in Atlanta, tying his career-high with 14 assists. He remains slow-of-foot, however, and on the back end of a back-to-back, he’ll have a hard time trying to keep Dennis Schröder (last 5 games: 22.8 PPG, 5.8 APG, 1.4 TOs/game) from compiling video-game numbers up in MSG.
Schröder had 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting, plus eight dimes and two TOs against the Knicks in Atlanta last month. Lotto-rookie Frank Ntilikina had perhaps his best NBA outing last night in a reserve role (10 points, 2-for-3 3FGs, 7 assists but 4 TOs in 21 minutes), and Knicks fans truly hope Hornacek noticed that.
Also a bit on the surly side today will be backup bigs Joakim Noah, the 2014 All-NBAer who was DNP-CD’d in his old stomping grounds last night, and Willy Hernangomez, who was DNP-CD’d two days after compiling double-double numbers in just 17 minutes, during an 18-point loss in Indiana. Can the Knicks’ frontcourt players establish enough of a gap, early and often, to keep the more-upbeat yet depleted Hawks at bay?
Let’s Go Hawks!