New York Knicks: What to Expect vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Courtney Lee #5 of the New York Knicks look on during the first half at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The New York Knicks kick off their season Thursday night against Carmelo Anthony and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Here’s what you can expect.

The New York Knicks begin their season on national TV against their former star in what amounts to amazing theater for the NBA and the fans. Expect the unexpected.

New York dropped both of their meetings with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season. They were overwhelmed by Russell Westbrook and bullied in the paint by Oklahoma City’s bigs. Things are different now for both teams.

They made a blockbuster trade with each other less than a month ago which sent Carmelo Anthony to the Thunder. The Knicks received one of those OKC bigs, Enes Kanter, and sharpshooter Doug McDermott.

Oklahoma City added Paul George in another stunning deal back in July and went from Westbrook’s team to legitimate contender. New York is in a slightly different spot. They’re using words like “rebuild” and “youth movement” which is code for tanking.

Tonight’s contest should be an interesting one. You can typically expect anything on opening night. Here’s what you should expect in this one.

Growing Pains

It’s the first game of the season for both teams, and there’s a lot of new pieces that are still trying to fit together. New York has eight new players on the roster while Oklahoma City is still trying to integrate Anthony and George with Westbrook.

Both teams will struggle early on. The Thunder were terrible on offense in the preseason; scoring just 94.8 points per 100 possessions. Both Anthony and George struggled shooting the ball at just over 40 percent from the field.

But if there was ever a defense for them to go against, it’s the Knicks. They gave up 100 or more points in all five preseason contests and opponents scored a staggering 110.3 points per 100 possessions. New York had a defensive rating of 108.7 last season.

They have a lot of work to do on both ends of the court as they make a change to Hornacek’s offense, but it’s the defense that will make or break them. On Thursday night, though, expect a brutal performance. Be surprised if OKC scores less than 110.

A Motivated Melo

When Carmelo Anthony played for the Denver Nuggets, he was a Knicks killer. In 16 games, he averaged 37.7 minutes, 29.9 points, and 6.2 rebounds per game on a slash line of .499/.294/.777.

On Thursday night he’ll play against the Knicks for the first time in nearly seven years. Whenever a guy goes up against the team that traded him he’s motivated, but this is a special case.

Anthony was publicly humiliated by this franchise last season. He made his feelings about the organization clear when he said he felt like he was “stabbed in the back” by them. While he’s obviously close with his teammates, that won’t stop what’s coming on Thursday.

Expect the ten-time All-Star to light his former team up. It’s going to be vintage Melo with isolations from the mid-post/elbow. If there were ever a time Westbrook would pass up shots, it would be tonight to make his new teammate look good.

The First of Many Starting Lineups

Jeff Hornacek wisely used a different starting lineup in all five preseason games. He plans to use a ten man rotation and it’s likely that everyone on the squad believes they deserve to play. Hornacek has some tough decisions to make so it was smart of the coach to test the waters in exhibition play.

But tonight’s the real thing. Whatever lineup we see tonight is highly unlikely to be indicative of what we see going forward, especially with Frank Ntilikina’s knee acting up, but it’s a good test for what’s to come.

Can the Knicks by going small with Courtney Lee at small forward?

Or should they go the more traditional route and play Lance Thomas or Michael Beasley at the three?

For now, that could all depend on the matchups. OKC has a couple big forwards, Anthony and George, so perhaps starting Thomas would be the way to go.

Then there’s the question about point guard. Frank is expected to play Thursday despite his recent knee injury, but don’t expect him to start. That role will likely go to veteran mentor Ramon Sessions. At least for now.

I'm ESNY's Executive Editor for I cover the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. Email: Chip Murphy covers the NBA for Elite Sports NY. You can find him on Twitter @ChipperMurphy.