The New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs would both be playoff teams if the NBA season ended today. Needless to say, that wasn’t something many expected back when the season started last December. The Knicks entered the season with a new head coach in Tom Thibodeau, but few believed Thibs would be able to carry this roster to the playoffs in his first year on the job.
The Spurs missed out on postseason play for the first time in over 20 years a season ago. San Antonio still has Gregg Popovich, but Pop signaled before the season began that he was ready to start a youth movement. The Spurs have won 17 of their first 30 games this season, though, which is good for the sixth-best record in the Western Conference.
The two surprising teams will do battle in the Alamo City on Tuesday night. The Spurs are 1.5-point favorites in a game with a modest 215.5 over/under.
The Knicks have been rebuilding for the better part of the last decade, but they have struggled to find franchise players in the draft over the years. A few players previously billed as “franchise saviors” have come and gone, but the team finally seems to have some direction.
New York enters tonight’s game on a three-game winning streak and winners of four of their last five overall. Julius Randle has enjoyed the bright lights of the big city, and he’s earned his first career All-Star appearance in his second season with the team. Randle leads the Knicks in scoring (23.4), rebounding (10.9), and assists (5.5) while shooting nearly 42 percent from three-point range. He does a little bit of everything for this team, and it’s hard to imagine the Spurs having much of an answer for him defensively.
Elfrid Payton has missed the past few games with an injury, and he’s unlikely to return tonight. That likely means another start for Derrick Rose with Immanuel Quickley playing a bigger role off the bench. Over the course of the team’s current winning streak, Rose is averaging 16.3 points and 7.3 assists in well over 30 minutes per game. Quickley, who has been one of the more impressive rookies in the league this season, has gone for 15.6 points per game during the winning streak.
New York is yielding just 106 points per 100 possessions so far this season, which is good for the third-best mark in the league. The only teams that have been better on that end thus far are the Lakers and Jazz. Thibodeau’s teams have always been known for defense, but the quick turnaround he’s done with New York is awfully impressive. Just last year, the Knicks ranked a dismal 23rd in defensive efficiency.
The Spurs have gotten off to a solid start this season, but the team has fallen on some hard times of late. San Antonio was recently forced to postpone four games due to health and safety protocols. The team returned from that hiatus last week with a few players still out of the lineup. San Antonio has lost two of three games since their return, including an overtime defeat at home to Brooklyn just last night.
Derrick White, Rudy Gay, Devin Vassell, and Quinndary Weatherspoon will miss another game tonight as a result of COVID protocols, while Keldon Johnson is listed as questionable. Johnson practiced earlier this week, but his timetable for return is uncertain.
With a few rotation players missing, Popovich has had to get creative with his rotations. Trey Lyles has been starting and playing a big role over the past few games, while Dejounte Murray, DeMar DeRozan, and Lonnie Walker have had to play big minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge, who is in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his career, has been demoted to the bench. The former All-Star is averaging just 13.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in around 26 minutes a night.
San Antonio has also improved defensively from where they were a year ago. San Antonio had an even worse D-rating than the Knicks did (110.9) last season, but this year they have improved all the way to No. 13 in that department. The Spurs are allowing a more respectable 108.8 points per 100 possessions through the first couple of months of this season.
The fact that the Spurs are thin on players and played an overtime game last night has me feeling skeptical of their chances tonight. The Knicks have been one of the toughest defensive teams in the league all year, and San Antonio’s offense isn’t good, to begin with. The Spurs are 20th in offensive rating.
In case you couldn’t tell where this was going, I like the Knicks tonight. New York is just a one-point favorite on the road. If this were any team other than the Knicks, they could certainly be favored by 4-5 points here. Because the Knicks have a reputation for being an awful team, of course, oddsmakers are reluctant to buy into their early-season success.
I’ll buy it, though. San Antonio is still nothing special, and the Knicks should be the fresher team after having not played since Sunday. A one-point spread is essentially a pick’em. The Knicks’ -102 moneyline odds are slightly better than the -110 number you can get on New York to cover the spread, so bet the moneyline here.
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