The Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks square off tonight, and what used to be the annual return of Carmelo Anthony to Denver amid a chorus of boos is now more of a big man fascination. Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic always strike sparks, but now that Melo is gone the Knicks are figuring out how to support Porzingis as their centerpiece. They are trying on a couple of young guards in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Frank Ntilikina in the same way the Nuggets are growing their back court through Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. Team-building around unicorns isn’t as easy as it looks, and neither team quite has it figured out yet with the Nuggets just one game over .500 and the Knicks six games under.
Porzingis is banged up, with a sore knee causing him to sit out New York’s loss to the Golden State Warriors, but like all injured stars he’s looking to get healthy in a hurry with an expected return against Denver tonight. The Knicks are 6-18 on the road, but that hasn’t meant much recently in the Mile High City where poor road teams have gotten surprising victories - that get less surprising every time they happen.
The Knicks need a road win. The Nuggets need to defend the home court. It’s unicorn versus unicorn for the European Unicorn title. Get ready folks, it should be a fun one.
Who: New York Knicks (21-27) at Denver Nuggets (24-23)
When: 7:00 PM MST
Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
How to Watch: Altitude TV
Rival blog: Posting and Toasting
Injury Report: Kenneth Faried, questionable (ankle); Gary Harris, questionable (foot); Paul Millsap, out (wrist), Kristaps Porzingis - probable (knee); Kyle O’Quinn - questionable (knee)
Three Things to Watch
Unicorns. Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic will always be compared to each other as European big men who came into the league the same year and have non-traditional skillsets, and thus far Jokic has won most of those meetings (both in the standings and the statlines). Porzingis won the most recent battle, back on Devil’s Night (October 30th), as he set a career-high with 38 points and carried the Knicks to victory. As has happened in each of his seasons thus far though he’s wilted a bit as the season has gotten deeper. Porzingis’s points and offensive rating have fallen in every successive month since the start of the year, and as he works off of a tender knee in this game it should be time for Jokic to prove to be the stronger and strangely fitter man.
Jokic is still flipping between being a paint force and a three-point drifter, though, as coach Michael Malone hasn’t found a way to replace missing All Star Paul Millsap in the front court. Jokic and Mason Plumlee clutter up the paint for one another and have been ineffective together in several stretches this year, but the emergence of Trey Lyles has given Malone another piece to play. He’s said he’ll rotate between Lyles and Plumlee depending on the matchup - hopefully this game is a Jokic/Lyles game and can free up Jokic to hurt the Knicks inside.
Guard play. Jamal Murray has been playing out of his mind recently, setting and resetting his career high in points while single-handedly pacing the offense. Apparently all he needed was a concussion to free his offensive game. With Gary Harris having an injured foot, he may have to keep shouldering that load. The Knicks meanwhile have a project guard in Ntilikina who is all length and projection, but has a scrappy demeanor and wants to be great. Hardaway signed a contract this offseason that many pundits laughed at
Paint battles. The Knicks are one of the most determined teams from two-point range in the league (and shoot the fewest threes, interestingly enough). They live in the paint with Enes Kanter leading that charge, but are only middle-of-the-pack effective despite shooting the second-most two-pointers in the NBA. The Nuggets need to open up the paint from their side and defend at the rim against a team that isn’t packed with great finishers.
Prediction: 116-110, Denver wins - a reversal of their last matchup. This is a game Denver desperately needs, and it’s set up for them to mitigate some of New York’s better weapons. We’ll see if that happens.