Tom Thibodeau is known as a coach whose teams play well defensively, so the New York Knicks giving up 145 points — at home — to Oklahoma City on Sunday was alarming.
His team agreed, so it convened for a players-only dinner in Salt Lake City on Monday night, a day before New York took on the Utah Jazz.
“It was good, good to have a team dinner like that,” R.J Barrett said Tuesday. “Try to figure this out the best that we can. We all care, trying to get this going on the right track.
“Just trying to hold each other accountable, trying to get this going because we want to win.”
The dinner seemed to help. The Knicks beat Utah 118-111 on Tuesday night and now face another test against one of the league’s best offensive teams when they visit the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
Denver leads the NBA in field-goal percentage at 50.4 and is fifth in scoring at 117.1 points a game. However, the Nuggets will be without their best player and two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who entered health and safety protocol on Tuesday night.
Jokic is averaging nearly a triple-double this year (20.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.9 assists) and is the center of Denver’s offense. He is the second Nuggets player to enter the protocol; Bones Hyland was ruled out an hour before Denver’s road loss to Boston on Friday night and missed Sunday’s win at Chicago.
He will also be out Wednesday night, while forward Aaron Gordon is listed as questionable with a non-COVID illness.
New York can’t relax just because the Nuggets are without their offensive catalyst; Denver still has plenty of weapons. In addition, the Knicks are without one of their best post defenders, Mitchell Robinson, who has a sprained right knee.
“I think with Mitch being out, that changes the defense a lot as well because he’s just, what is he, top five in blocks every year?” Barrett said. “That changes a lot, but when one man is down, we’ve got to figure it out.”
Without Jokic, Hyland and possibly Gordon missing, more pressure will be on Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. to ramp up their offensive games. Porter was nearly invisible in the loss to the Celtics (seven points) but followed that up with a 31-point performance against the Bulls.
Porter said he apologized to coach Michael Malone for not being on top of his game in Boston.
“You’ve got to grow,” Porter told The Denver Post. “You can’t always blame other people. Sometimes, you’re the common denominator, so I’m always trying to see what I can do to grow.”
Porter’s self-awareness and bounce-back game made an impression on Malone.
“That, in and of itself, is maturity,” Malone said. “That, in and of itself, is ownership.”
The Nuggets have options to fill in for Jokic, including increased minutes for DeAndre Jordan. Denver can play smaller, too, with Bruce Brown in line for more minutes, as well as rookie Christian Braun, who has played well in stretches this year.
–Field Level Media