Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 12:30 PM PT
How to watch/listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups:
Knicks: Dennis Smith Jr. – Damyean Dotson – Kevin Knox – Lance Thomas – Noah Vonleh
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Pat Beverley – Landry Shamet – Danilo Gallinari – Ivica Zubac
Knicks: DeAndre Jordan Questionable (Ankle), Mario Hezonja Out (Leg), Frank Ntilikina Questionable (Groin)
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute Questionable (Knee), Wilson Chandler Out (Quad)
The Big Picture:
Last night, the Clippers beat the Kings on the road in the biggest game of the season so far. With 18 games to go, the Clippers sit in the 7th seed with a 35-29 record, and are three losses ahead of the Kings and Lakers. Despite some ups and downs, particularly with their starting lineup, the Clippers have mostly held steady since a rough patch in early December, and their early season success is doing them a huge favor right now. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has worked his way out of his slump, JaMychal Green continues to give the Clippers huge minutes, and Pat Beverley is playing the best basketball of his career. The Clippers certainly aren’t a lock for the playoffs, but they’re in a good position to make the postseason right now, and might even avoid the Warriors in the 1st round. While they would face long odds against other top teams as well, they could at least be competitive against the Nuggets, Blazers, or even Thunder in a playoff series. If the Clippers keep winning, the 7th seed could be theirs.
The Knicks are putrid. They’re 13-49, and would be the worst team in the NBA if it weren’t for the even more woeful Phoenix Suns. Still, the Knicks are not in the worst place right now. They have cap space for two max free agents this summer, and the buzz on Kevin Durant joining them is becoming too loud to ignore. Kyrie Irving, too, is now a possibility with the Celtics slumping. However, even if the Knicks don’t land free agents, they have a real core of promising young players for the first time in around a decade. Mitchell Robinson is a beast defensively, capable of both protecting the rim and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. If he can keep his fouls down and improve on the little things, he could be a DPOY candidate in his prime. Allonzo Trier has had a nice rookie season, especially considering he was undrafted, showing the ability to be a nice rotation-caliber wing player at the very least. Add in Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and even the play of a Damyean Dotson, and the Knicks have some guys who could be around on the next “great” Knicks team. Interestingly enough, their least promising rookie is the guy they drafted highest: Kevin Knox, the 9th pick in the 2018 draft, has had a dreadful season, providing volume scoring on abysmal efficiency and nothing else. When he’s hot though, he’s capable of putting up some real numbers on the board. Most of the Knicks’ veterans have been shed, though DeAndre Jordan is still on the team after the buyout deadline. However, he likely won’t play against the Clippers due to an ankle injury.
- Return of the Luc is nigh: The Clippers upgraded Luc from “out” to questionable this afternoon, marking the first time he’s been even close to a game-time decision since late October. After missing 75% of the season, it will be interesting to see how many minutes Luc gets once he returns – and how Doc plays him. Luc is probably more of a 4 now, but Danilo Gallinari and JaMychal Green have those minutes locked down. There was talk very early in the season of the Clippers going very small with Luc and Gallo at the 4-5, and that could still work, but Harrell has been so good that those lineups will probably be pretty rare. If anything, look for Luc to get more minutes at the three, and for Ty Wallace and Garrett Temples’ minutes to be reduced or cut.
- Bounce-back kid: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has had some rough patches this season, perhaps none rougher than the three-game stretch last week against Memphis, Dallas, and Denver, where he shot 1-17 from the field and had 8 assists to 8 turnovers. As he has all season, however, Shai came back from the rough outings with a vengeance, pouring in 12-21 shots (and 4-5 from three!) over the past two games, averaging 14 points and 3 rebounds while playing very good defense. Shai’s resiliency has been fantastic, and while it would be great if he was more consistent, point guard is perhaps the toughest position for young NBA players to learn, and his toughness on the court has been wonderful to watch.
- Must win: This isn’t a must-win game in the same sense the Kings game was, an important contest between two teams scrapping for the playoffs. This is a must-win in that the Knicks are awful, and the Clippers need to win games against the cellar-dwellers of the NBA, particularly at home. This game is all the more important because another huge game against the Lakers looms on Monday. The Clippers can’t look forward to the game against the Lakers, because that’s how good teams lose to bad ones. They also should try to put the Knicks away early, not only to get the easy win, but also to allow their vets to rest for the Lakers’ showdown.
- Sunday matinee: Sunday matinee games are always a bit fluky, especially in LA. This Knicks team is young, and doesn’t get to be in LA much during the season. I expect several of them will look rather the worse for wear for a Sunday game, as they will probably have had long nights tonight. Let’s hope the Clippers are somewhat smarter, and are ready to go bright and early.
Visit Posting and Toasting for the Knicks perspective, and check in tomorrow morning for the game thread!