Where: Madison Square Garden; New York, New York
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
After dropping the first two games of the four-game road trip, the Charlotte Hornets will hope for a better result tonight against the New York Knicks.
But winning in Madison Square Garden won’t be easy, as the the Knicks are playing competent basketball for the first time in years. After starting the season 0-3, New York has won five of the past six games, with wins over the Cavaliers and Nuggets. Leading the current run of good form is Kristaps Porzingis, aka “Kristaps DA GAWD” aka “The Unicorn” aka “The Greatest Knicks Player of All Time.” (don’t @ me).
The player Phil Jackson wanted to trade is currently averaging 30.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game, shooting 50 percent from the field (and that’s attempting over 22 shots a game) and a solid 36.6 percent from the 3-point line. Porzingis has scored over 30 points in all but two games so far, and reached 40 points for the first time on Sunday in a win over the Pacers. Containing him will be key, because in both games he scored under 30 points (19 against Houston, 12 against Boston) the Knicks lost. New York, unsurprisingly, rides through him, so limiting his impact even just marginally could make the difference.
That’s going to take a strong defensive effort, which the Hornets did not show on Sunday in the loss to the Timberwolves. Charlotte didn’t give the kind of effort needed to limit Minnesota’s prolific offense, and as a result the Wolves went on a 21-4 run in route to a blowout win. Clifford called out his team’s effort after the game, and past calling outs have often resulted in a more focused Hornets squad in the next game. Hopefully that proves true tonight.
Defensively issues aside, the Hornets need better play from Kemba Walker, who is averaging just 11 points per game on the current road trip. San Antonio and Minnesota recognized that Charlotte relies heavily on Walker, and effectively game planned to limit his ability to get good looks. New York will undoubtedly do the same, so to alleviate some of that pressure other players will have to step up.
That said, Walker and the rest of the team should also focus on getting back to the free throw line. Actually making most of them would be nice as well; Charlotte shot just 11-for-21 from the free throw line against Minnesota, and Howard wasn’t responsible for the majority of the misses, going just 1-for-2. Free throws have been a strength thus far, so converting from the line is important.
Focusing again on New York, the Knicks are getting nearly 17 points a game out of Tim Hardaway Jr., but he hasn’t been that efficient, shooting under 40 percent from the field and only 30 percent from the 3-point line. Enes Kanter, meanwhile, has been very effective, averaging 13.6 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. He’s playing solid defense this season, and is making the Knicks a better defensive rebounding team. Finally, every Hornets fan’s favorite former player Courtney Lee is doing very Courtney Lee-like things, averaging 10 points and shooting 41.2 percent from 3. Also keep an eye on Kyle O’Quinn, who plays tough in the post. Cody Zeller and he should be a fun matchup.
Given the form of both teams, getting a win tonight won’t be easy. Still, Charlotte could restore a lot of fan confidence by coming away on top.