Depending on who one talks to, the Knicks are either dealing with a small grease fire on the stove or (once again) combatting a five-alarm fire at Madison Square Garden after back-to-back big losses over the weekend -- on the road against Miami Friday and at home against the Bucks Saturday.
The way in which the team lost both times -- going down big, clawing back, but ultimately still losing by 15-plus points -- was eerily reminiscent of the woebegone David Fizdale era in some ways. Important to consider, however, is that the Knicks were facing two of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference at around the one-third mark or the season, and never let themselves drop into 30-plus point blowout territory.
That said, perhaps just the extinguisher (or gasoline, if they should somehow lose big again) that the Knicks need for this fire, whatever size it may be, is a matchup against the equally futile (8-20) and incredibly shorthanded Washington Wizards at home.
Already without a number of contributing roleplayers, the Wizards come to New York without sharpshooting forward Davis Bertans (out with a right quad strain) and point guard Isaiah Thomas (serving the first game of a two-game suspension for an altercation with a fan in Washington’s last game in Philadelphia).
Bertans was averaging a robust 17.6 points per game on 45.8% shooting in his last 18 games prior to tonight, starting the last three contests. Thomas, likewise, was hot, averaging 18 points in four straight starts prior to his suspension.
So that means that tonight, it’s the Knicks against Bradley Beal and… well, that’s more or less it.
The undisputed best player on the Wizards -- averaging 28.2 points, seven assists and five rebounds per game -- Beal will have a tall order against the Knicks with the Wizards missing five of their top eight players by total minutes this season.
The Knicks and interim head coach Mike Miller aren’t taking this hurting Wizards team lightly, however -- least of all Beal.
“It’s one of those games where you look at it and say, ‘Well, they have some guys out,’” Miller said. “We still have to approach it the same way. We’re playing an NBA team tonight. We’re playing a guy, Bradley Beal, who’s a top-five scorer in the league that has been on a tear lately.”
The Knicks will once again start Elfrid Payton at point guard, but Miller made it clear that the guard rotation tonight will mostly be geared towards stopping Beal.
“We’re going to be searching for a matchup for Bradley Beal throughout the game,” Miller said. “So I’m not sure what that will dictate with the lineups at this point.”
The Knicks, of course, aren't without some injury concerns of their own. Taj Gibson is questionable with an illness, and Marcus Morris is doubtful with a sore left Achilles. Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock are both on the mend but remain out.
Most important for the Knicks tonight will be not underestimating the Wizards just because they’re short on bodies.
“I think we have to have the right approach going into this,” Miller said. “We have to understand, we have to go out there and be efficient in how we play. We have to take things away from them where we make the game a little bit harder, and then we have to make some plays on the other end.”
Pulling out a game that they should win could put out yet another small fire in Knicks land. We’ll see if it happens, or if yet another blaze will ignite.