It’s hard to not pay a little extra attention when the Knicks play the San Antonio Spurs, as it’s a 1999 NBA Finals rematch. People may pay extra extra attention on Wednesday since it means watching Victor Wembanyama, the Spurs’ rookie center and reigning No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
Both teams are 3-4 but make no mistake. This game is the Knicks’ to lose, even if Wembanyama proves tough to defend. The Spurs are in a rare transitionary phase under coach Gregg Popovich and haven’t made the playoffs for four years.
San Antonio will need Wembanyama to do his best combination David Robinson-Tim Duncan impression in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd.
Time: Wednesday, Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m. ET
Betting Line: Knicks -9, Over/under 224.5 via DraftKings
Injuries: Keldon Johnson (Wrist; probable), Devin Vassell (Groin; doubtful)
Key Storyline: How will the Knicks defend Victor Wembanyama? Seven games into the 19-year-old Frenchman’s young career, the 7-foot-4 Wembanyama has delivered. He’s averaging 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game while making 46.2% of his shot attempts. And while lining up at power forward, too!
This put the Knicks in a pickle. They can’t task 6-foot-8 Julius Randle with defending Wembanyama, so they’ll likely lean on Mitchell Robinson. However, what if that takes the talented big out of the paint? Tom Thibodeau is a great coach but make no mistake, coaching against a Wembanyama-led Spurs team won’t be easy.
Key Matchup: Julius Randle vs. Zach Collins. This means that instead of Wembanyama, Randle should focus his energy on his frontcourt teammate Zach Collins. The former Gonzaga Bulldog is an athletic 6-foot-11, 250 pound big and is in the midst of a career season in San Antonio.
But Randle is still stronger and reminded everyone he’s the Knicks’ bully with a 27-point, 10-rebound performance against the Clippers on Monday. New York will hope for a repeat performance against the young Spurs.
X-Factor: Jalen Brunson. Yes, containing Victor Wembanyama will be the Knicks’ top priority, but setting the tone on offense is also important. This means a Jalen Brunson bounce-back game. New York’s star point guard only managed seven points against the Clippers on Monday and shot 2 of 12 in 35 minutes.
This shouldn’t be hard for Brunson to accomplish. San Antonio has the third-worst defense in the league and are also down a top scorer in Devin Vassell. Wembanyama’s length may get in the way at times, but look for Brunson to be aggressive from the start.
Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), Quentin Grimes (SG), RJ Barrett (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C)
Spurs predicted starters: Malaki Branham (PG), Keldon Johnson (SG), Jeremy Sochan (SF), Victor Wembanyama (PF), Zach Collins (C)
Prediction: The Knicks’ early shooting woes mean they haven’t scored as well as the middling Spurs, but they have two advantages. They’re at home, and are still the better overall team. Add Vassell’s injury and Popovich having to get creative with his lineup, and New York should roll.
Knicks beat Spurs 116-106