The Oklahoma City Thunder will try to keep their momentum going as they continue their current road trip on Friday night with a matchup versus the New York Knicks.
After starting the season out with a 1-3 record, OKC has won two of its last three games. The Thunder are playing the fourth game of their current five-game road trip, which will culminate with a matchup against the Nets in Brooklyn on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Knicks continue to be one of the league’s most pleasant surprises in Tom Thibodeau’s first season as head coach. New York has won three in a row and five of its last six games to enter the weekend with an impressive 5-3 overall record.
Can the Knicks keep their momentum going against an improving Thunder squad at Madison Square Garden on Friday night?
Thunder embracing youth with balanced attack
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 20 points and George Hill hit the go-ahead free throws with 12 seconds left to help the Thunder escape with a 111-110 victory on the road against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night. Oklahoma City led by as many as 14 points on the night and by 10 to start the fourth quarter before allowing New Orleans to take several late leads.Oklahoma City has been embracing its youth with a more balanced attack on offense this season. With 11 new players on the roster, the rebuilding Thunder doesn’t have a lot of continuity from last year’s playoff team but head coach Mark Daigneault has the team trending in the right direction.
Seven of the team’s main rotation players are 22 years old or younger and the organization is building a roster full of versatile, positionless, players. Despite their youth, the Thunder have been sharing the basketball at a high level too and they come into Friday’s matchup with five players averaging double-figures in scoring, led by Gilgeous-Alexander at 19.0 points per game.
While the Thunder come into the weekend with a respectable 3-4 overall record, they’ve endured an up-and-down start, especially on the offensive end. According to dunkandthrees.com, the Thunder own the second-worst adjusted net rating in the NBA at -6.5 so far this season. OKC ranks dead-last in the league with a 100.4 offensive rating and second-last with an adjusted 104.6 mark. However, the Thunder have managed to remain solid on the other end of the floor, sporting an adjusted defensive rating of 111.1 through their first seven games.
Knicks flashing improvement under Thibodeau
New York took down the Utah Jazz 112-100 behind a surprise performance off of the bench from Austin Rivers. Rivers scored 23 points, including 14 straight down the stretch to help New York earn its third straight win. Julius Randle had 30 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists while veteran Elfrid Payton finished with 22 points and nine assists for the Knicks, who trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half.
The Knicks are looking for options to boost their front-court depth and it’s possible that the organization could turn to a few familiar faces to fill that void. New York is reportedly interested in signing the likes of either Taj Gibson or Tyson Chandler to a short-term deal. Gibson, who played for Thibodeau in Chicago and Minnesota, spent last season with the Knicks but the organization declined his $10 team option in November and opted not to resign him to a more affordable deal. Injuries and COVID-19 have left New York without rookie first-round pick Obi Toppin, as well as big men Nerlens Noel and Omari Spellman.
Despite the injuries, New York has managed to remain among the best teams in the league so far this season. According to dunksandthrees.com, the Knicks rank ninth in the NBA in adjusted net rating (+2.9). That’s due in part to their prowess on the defensive end of the floor, where Thibodeau appears to have regained his magic this year. While New York has left room for improvement on offense (108.8 adjusted offensive rating, 18th in the NBA), Thibodeau’s Knicks own the third-best adjusted defensive rating in the league at just 105.9 through their first eight games.