Outside of Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks have struggled to score this season. They are 28th in points per game with 96.8 ahead of only the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. They’re also struggling to move the ball and are 26th in the league in assists per game, not hard to believe for a team without a recognized point guard. The overall balance between their offense and defense has been a mess. As evidenced by this, their overall net rating is 26th in the league. Maybe it’s just early season jitters but the Knicks have to get some flow to their game or they’re going to struggle all season.
Preseason the Denver Nuggets were a team touted for playoff glory. While they haven’t been disastrous by any means, they haven’t shown the cohesion of a playoff bound team. Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap have been solid without being spectacular but the form of guard Jamal Murray has been a worry. He’s played his fair share of minutes per game (24.4) but is only 8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3 assists in that time. Even more worrying is his player efficiency rating which is the second worst on the team (behind only reserve big man, Juan Hernangomez) at a paltry 4.0. The Nuggets will need the young guard to improve his play to be any chance to make noise in the postseason, or better yet they should go hard after shunned Suns’ guard, Eric Bledsoe.
Three keys to the game
Defense – Both squads have struggled this season, whether it’s been through personnel or just general lack of effort. With both teams giving up 100+ points per game this season, it’s the side who can restrict the other from getting any solid open looks and can stay engaged on the defensive side for four quarters will likely win the game.
Guard play – Gary Harris is the best guard out of both lineups. His activity on the offensive end, and his fit alongside Jokic, earned him a hefty contract extension. Meanwhile, Tim Hardaway Jr., who was also rewarded handsomely with a large contract, has been very poor to start the season. Averaging just 9.8 points and 1.5 assists per game simply won’t cut it as a starter. He’s in need of a breakout game to silence his naysayers.
Bench play – Denver has some nice depth on its roster at all positions and would count that as one of its strengths. The Knicks, on the other hand, have been lacking in that area. Doug McDermott has yet to give the team much, though big man Kyle O’Quinn has given them good energy over the years. Both reserve units will have a huge say in the outcome of this game.
Matchup to watch
Paul Millsap vs Kristaps Porzingis – Millsap is one of the league’s premier defenders at the four and he’s going to have his hands full with one of the best young big men in the game. He’ll be giving up plenty of size and quickness to a player like Porzingis but what he lacks in those departments he makes up for in experience and basketball IQ. Look for Porzingis to try and overpower the perennial All Star while Millsap tries to counter with his general craftiness.
Denver Nuggets projected starting lineup
PG – Jamal Murray | SG – Gary Harris | SF – Wilson Chandler | PF – Paul Millsap | C –Nikola Jokic
New York Knicks projected starting lineup
PG – Jarrett Jack | SG – Courtney Lee | SF – Tim Hardaway Jr. | PF – Kristaps Porzingis | C – Enes Kanter
Nikola Jokic hasn’t had a dominant performance this season. He was one of the leaders in triple doubles last season and has one of the most unique skill sets for a big man. Look for him to take advantage of New York’s lack of defense so far and post a big box score.
While there are no line odds available at this stage, if the differential is anything greater than eight points look for the Knicks to cover that. They haven’t been great playing at home at Madison Square Garden but look for the home town energy to keep this one close. Still, there’s no way you’d bet against the Nuggets who have young and veteran talent at every position. Their talent will prove too much for a rebuilding Knicks squad.
Denver gets the win but don’t have it all their way. Kristaps will do everything he can to lift the Knicks but the superstar front court of duo Jokic and Millsap will have their way with a lackluster Knicks defense. While Harris has struggled so far this season, with the Knicks lack of backcourt talent look for him to get his season back on track with a solid outing.
Catch this one on league pass and local channel providers. Tip off is at 7.30 pm at Madison Square Garden.
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