The Washington Wizards (19-33) travel up north to face the New York Knicks (17-37). This will be the second game of a back-to-back, with the Wizards coming off a strong 126-114 home victory over the Chicago Bulls.
I think the term that best describes the Wizards this season is “consistently inconsistent”. This season, the Wizards have found a way to beat some of the toughest teams in the league, then turn around and lose to a beatable team the next game. Just last week, the Wizards had an opportunity to put together their first three-game winning streak of the season. Instead, they put up a dud in a home loss to the last place Golden State Warriors.
With the Wizards coming off a win, they have yet another opportunity against a team lower in the standings that is viewed as extremely beatable. The Knicks stand at 17-37 on the year, just two games back in the win column of the Wizards.
The Knicks enter this game on somewhat of a hot-streak, winning four games in a row before losing to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. They started the season an abysmal 4-18 under previous Head Coach David Fizdale, and have since went 13-19 under interim Mike Miller. That record isn’t great. But, it is at least respectable enough to put them back into the “playoff push” in the disastrous Eastern Conference.
Different Offseasons, Similar Results
Before the season, these franchises goals seemed very far apart from each other. But each of these teams stands just a few games back from the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks chased a bunch of veteran options in the off-season instead of trying to gather more young talent. They grabbed Julius Randle, Marcus Morris (now traded to the Clippers), Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton, and Reggie Bullock. These moves signified that the Knicks were tired of being bottom-dwellers of the league, and wanted to make a playoff push with veterans. This took some opportunities away from the young guys they already had in place. Guys like Kevin Knox haven’t played as much as they probably should.
The results have not gone as they hoped, and the Knicks have since fired both Head Coach David Fizdale and President Steve Mills in season.
The Wizards, on the other hand, stated before the season that playoffs ultimately weren’t the main goal for this year. With John Wall still out with an Achilles injury, the Wizards used their off-season to obtain a ton of young talent to fill out their roster and rotation. They even made a deal at the trade deadline to bring in Jerome Robinson, a first round pick from 2018. The young guys have exceeded what was expected of them so far this season. They stand just 3 games back of the struggling Magic for the final playoff spot.
The Wizards pretty much know what they are getting from Bradley Beal night in and night out. Beal is averaging 29.1 ppg and 6.3 apg on 45.3 percent shooting. Some might even say that’s All-Star worthy! (Some apparently might not). Because of what we know he brings each and every night, the key match-up will be between two very important role players for each team.
Ish Smith vs Elfrid Payton
Ish Smith has been incredible for the Wizards so far this season. With the trade of Isaiah Thomas, he has been given the green light to be the starting point-guard for the time being. Smith averages 10.8 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.2 rpg, and maintains some of the speed at the point guard position that has been lost with Wall out. Once Wall returns, Smith could be the best backup point guard he has ever had.
If the Wizards win, it’s likely because Ish Smith dissects the most vulnerable position on the Knicks roster, the point guard spot. The Knicks start Elfrid Payton at point-guard. But between Payton, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr., they have not found consistency at the position.
Payton’s stats look similar to Smith’s, but at a much less efficient rate. He averages 9.5 ppg and 6.8 apg on 42.5 percent shooting. Look for the Wizards to go under screens and force him to shoot from beyond the arc where he really struggles. He shoots an awful 22.8 percent from three-point range.
Thomas Bryant- Out
Anzejz Pasecniks- Questionable
Allonzo Trier, Damyean Dotson, Mitchell Robinson, Maurice Harkless- Probable
Points Spread: New York -2.5
Money Lines: Washington +120, New York -140