Oklahoma City Thunder (3-4) at New York Knicks (5-3)
Tip Off: 6:30pm CST
How To Watch: FSOK
The Thunder come into tonight’s game with a chance to crack the .500 mark after boosting their record to 3-4 vs. the Pelicans on Wednesday, winning 111-110. For the New York Knicks, they have been one of the most pleasant surprises in the league thus far, exceeding their preseason expectations going 5-3 through their first eight games. The Knicks are on their biggest hot streak of the year, coming out victorious in their past three games.
The Thunder have two players listed as out for tonight:
Ty Jerome (ankle)
Trevor Ariza (personal)
The Knicks have five players out for this game:
Frank Ntilikina out (knee)
Obi Toppin out (calf)
Dennis Smith Jr. (quad)
Alec Burks (ankle)
Taj Gibson (not with team)
PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander———-Elfrid Payton
SG George Hill———————–——-Reggie Bullock
SF Lu Dort————————-———–RJ Barrett
PF Darius Bazley——————–——-Julius Randle
C Al Horford————————–——-Mitchell Robinson
Key Matchup- Darius Bazley vs. Julius Randle
Bazley and Randle are playing their best stretch of games debatably in their whole playing careers. In the past three games Bazley has averaged splits of 18.3/10.7/ 2.3 on 50% shooting and 40% from deep. If Mark Daigneault gives Bazley the go-ahead in this game to be the initiator on offense there will be some fireworks going off in the Garden. His wide array of abilities of offense give Randle a tough task as Bazley’s three ball, mid-range pull-up, and shots around the basket have all been going in at a magnificent rate for the sophomore.
For Randle, he has seemingly put this Knicks team on his back, putting up season averages of 23.1/12.0/7.4 through eight games. Randle’s scoring ability around the basket compounded with his knack at scrapping up boards has never been in question, but he is currently sitting at eighth best in the league on assists. The same numbers have been showcased in his last three ball games, tallying up 23.3/14.7/8.0 in 40 minutes a game. The offense without a doubt will be ran through him and his force inside will draw in help, if Bazley can shut him down things should be smooth sailing for the Thunder.
Keys To The Game:
1) Protect the Paint
The intentions for the Knicks entering this game are obvious. There tandem of Randle, Robinson, and former Thunder center Nerlens Noel will give Thunder bigs nightmares inside for 48 minutes if they are not prepared. The Knicks dropped 60 points in the paint on 2x Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, I think it’s fair to say they make have things easier going with Bazley and Horford manning the frontcourt.
One upside to this Knicks team is their starting point-guard Elfrid Payton is a career 29% from three. Al Horford, who tends to stay back on high ball screens, will not have to worry about giving up wide open shots on Payton as the primary focus should be centered on Randle and the paint. This is the rare exception where Horford not hedging on screens won’t make me pull my hair out.
2) Bench Production
The Thunder’s second unit have kept us around, and in some cases been the determining factor in our success through seven games. With the Knicks heavily undermanned at the 1-3, the Knicks will either be throwing out inexperienced players or gassed starters to match our bench unit. This gives players like Hamidou Diallo a great shot to take advantage as his high level of intensity inside overpowers that of a Knicks starter searching for Gatorade or a rookie hearing his name for the first time.
3) Stay In Transition
In Wednesday’s face-off against the Pelicans, Oklahoma City raked in 27 points off the fastbreak. This tempo we had of getting the offense going early instead of running 48 minutes in the half-court led to that win.
A reason this strategy of having one or two players running down court off shots worked on Wednesday was due to the Pelicans lack of shooters. In the Knicks current starting lineup, only RJ Barrett and Reggie Bullock can shot at some level from three. If Barrett and Bullock can be locked down, forcing bad shots inside, we can have the transition offense begin on a dime due to these shots having little hangtime. Operating in fastbreak will be the best way to wear down the Knicks group of starters, and give us more minutes on their typical 3rd-stringers and starters playing at 50%.