The Knicks, winners of four of their last five, look to up their standing in the NBA In-Season Tournament at the halfway point of their five-game road trip. A Friday tilt with the Wizards in DC should give them ample opportunity to shake off their initial group play loss to Milwaukee on Nov. 3.
It helps New York that Washington is 2-9, has lost eight of its last nine, and no longer has Bradley Beal leading the way. New York, meanwhile, just pulled off a tight win over rival Atlanta on Wednesday, and without star wing RJ Barrett.
Which version of the Knicks will show up Friday? Will they dominate the rebuilding Wiz Kids and improve their standing in the tournament? Or will Washington pull off an upset and make the Knicks refocus on the actual playoffs in the spring?
Time: Friday, Nov. 17, 7:00 p.m. ET
Betting Line: Knicks -7.5, Over/Under 227 via DraftKings.
Injuries: Quentin Grimes (Wrist; questionable), RJ Barrett (Migraines; questionable), Delon Wright (Knee; OUT)
Key Storyline: Can the Knicks keep running hot and right their Tournament ship? There are several reasons the Knicks should be extra-motivated headed into this game. And believe it or not, the Wizards not being a great team with little-to-no star power is the least of them. Rather, the Knicks should let their tournament-opening loss to Milwaukee fuel them.
Fans recall that New York held a late fourth quarter lead on Nov. 3, only for Damian Lillard to score eight of the Bucks’ last ten points in the final minute. The Knicks shouldn’t even let the score get that close in Washington. But with wing injuries mounting and after an emotional win in Atlanta, can the league’s to-ranked defense show up again?
Key Matchup: Julius Randle vs. Kyle Kuzma. The Randle of old is back and running red hot, even if his overall percentages are still ugly. He’s averaging 19 points and 10.3 boards on the season, but led the Knicks with 29 points, ten rebounds, and eight assists in Atlanta on Wednesday. He’ll be tasked with playing some of his improved defense on Kuzma, who leads the Wizards with 23.9 points per game.
Like Randle, Kuzma’s offense is versatile. He can be a force from long range as well as in the paint. Randle’s advantage, however, is his strength inside. He’s 6-foot-8 and a stout 250 pounds compared to Kuzma, long and lean at 6-foot-9, 221 pounds. Randle should have no problem turning in another great game if he can keep up the physicality and stay focused on D.
X-Factor: Josh Hart. Hart is the ultimate swingman. He can score in the paint, in the midrange, and from three. He’s one of the league’s best on-ball pests with his lockdown defense. The Knicks will need all of this from Josh Hart and then a little more, particularly if one or both of Quentin Grimes or RJ Barrett can’t go.
New York doesn’t need him to pad his own stats, but keep opposing players from increasing theirs. Beating the Wizards without Grimes and/or Barrett is tough, but doable so long as Hart keeps leading defense on the wing.
Knicks predicted starters: Jalen Brunson (PG), Josh Hart (SG), RJ Barrett (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C)
Wizards predicted starters: Tyus Jones (PG), Jordan Poole (SG), Deni Avdija (SF), Kyle Kuzma (PF), Daniel Gafford (C)
Prediction: No surprises here. Even if they’re shorthanded, the Knicks should still defeat Washington handily. It’s hard to imagine Barrett missing a third straight game, and the Wizards just lean too hard on Kuzma and Poole to score. Add the Wizards having the third-worst defense in the league, and New York wins easy. Knicks beat Wizards 111-95