The Knicks would love to remedy Wednesday’s tough, streak-breaking loss to the Raptors with a season sweep of the Bulls on Friday. If anything, it could help spark a renewal of the New York-Chicago rivalry.
More importantly, the Knicks would love to win this game to prove their recent run wasn’t a fluke. They looked like the Tom Thibodeau Knicks of old, all tough defense and balanced, communicative offense.
The Bulls, meanwhile, have won two straight against the Heat and Hawks after losing their previous four. They also took the Knicks to overtime in Chicago earlier this month before getting blown out in the second tilt. Now, they’ll just hope to avoid the sweep at MSG.
Time: Friday, Dec. 23, 7:30 p.m. ET.
Injuries: Obi Toppin (knee, out), Quentin Grimes (ankle, questionable), Lonzo Ball (knee, out), Javonte Green (knee, out), Derrick Jones Jr. (ankle, out), Alex Caruso (shoulder, doubtful), Goran Dragic (ankle, probable).
Betting line: Knicks -5.5, over/under 226 via Sports Betting Dime.
Key Storyline: Knicks seek season sweep and start of new winning streak. The Knicks are in a prime position to sweep the Bulls in a season series for the first time in six years. It helps that Wednesday’s loss was more a reflection of the Raptors’ physical defense than it was the Knicks having a bad game.
This means that regardless of if Quentin Grimes and his signature defense are available, the Knicks should beat Chicago on Friday. The Bulls are battered and down two elite on-ball defenders in Alex Caruso and Javonte Green. They’ll need DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine to dominate and hope New York has a cold shooting night.
Key Matchup: RJ Barrett vs DeMar DeRozan. Barrett has overcome his slow start and is in the midst of a strong December, posting 21.7 points per game for the month. He’s been matched up with DeRozan twice already this season with mixed results. The first game saw the veteran torch Barrett for 32 points and 17 trips to the free throw line as Barrett eventually fouled out.
Luckily, Barrett immediately adjusted and held DeRozan to 14 points in Round 2. Chicago will lean on the veteran wing to attack in the midrange and drive to the basket again. With a home crowd behind him, RJ Barrett has extra motivation to stop him.
X-Factor: Immanuel Quickley. Grimes not playing means losing a key piece of the Knicks defense. In turn, the best shift could be more offense. The Bulls can still score points in a hurry despite ranking 16th in scoring, so the Knicks will need Quickley to keep up the hot shooting.
Quickley stepped into the starting lineups for Grimes against Toronto and answered with 20 points in 25 minutes, including six threes. Like Barrett, he too has overcome a slow start and is shooting 42.6% from three this month. He was also a non-factor in both games against Chicago this year, managing just 12 points and a single three-pointer. Count on him being motivated at home and lighting up the scoreboard as needed.
Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), Immanuel Quickley (SG), RJ Barrett (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C)
Bulls predicted starters: Coby White (PG), Zach LaVine (SG), DeMar DeRozan (SF), Patrick Wiliams (PF), Nikola Vucevic (C)
Prediction: The Knicks might be without Grimes’ defense for the second straight game but can breathe a little easier. The Bulls aren’t nearly as physical a team as Toronto and will be without some key pieces. Throw in the rowdy Garden Faithful, and the Knicks will sweep Chicago right out of town. Knicks 109, Bulls 98.