The two teams currently sit 11th and 14th respectively in a weak Eastern Conference. Both are without key players in John Wall, who was ruled out for the season recently, and Kristaps Porzingis, who suffered an ACL injury in the last campaign and is unlikely to return before the 2019/20 season.
The Knicks will also be without centre Enes Kanter. Kanter has been critical of the Turkish government and believes it would not be safe for him to fly to London.
Kanter, as reported by ESPN, said, “It’s pretty sad that just all this stuff affects my career and basketball, because I want to be out there helping my team win. But just because of that one lunatic guy, one maniac or dictator, I can’t even go out there and just do my job. So it’s pretty sad.”
Tim Hardaway Jr. may also be unavailable for the Knicks, having missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring issue. Hardaway is the team leader in scoring with 19.8 points per game, over seven points more than anyone else.
As it stands, the Knicks would be one of the three teams with equal odds to land the first overall pick in the draft. The injury to Porzingis meant New York are not playoff contenders this term. They have lost 12 of their last 13 games.
It’s a shame that fans at the O2 will not get to see Porzingis, Kanter and Wall, but there is still plenty of talent on display, including one of the NBA’s hottest players right now.
The Wizards are still harbouring playoff ambitions despite Wall’s injury. Bradley Beal has been incredible of late, including a 43-point triple-double in Sunday night’s overtime loss to the Toronto Raptors. Trevor Ariza was brought in from Phoenix earlier in the season and the Wizards may well be active again before the trade deadline as they eye up one of the final three playoff spots behind the top five.
Beal is averaging 31.3 points per game in January, along with just under 44% from three-point range. He’s rebounding the ball well (5.4 per game) too, but it is his leap in assists that has perhaps been most impressive. When Wall was playing earlier in the season, Beal was hovering around four assists per game. That has increased to 6.9 per game in 2019 so far.
We saw some of Washington’s best basketball when Wall was unavailable last season. Some of their best performances this campaign have come without Wall. His absence does not rule them out of making the playoffs.
Their woeful start to the season means they still have ground to make up, but performances like Beal’s of late give them every chance of returning to the postseason. The Wizards are only two games behind the Charlotte Hornets at the moment, who occupy eighth in the East with a 19-23 record.
This year is all about development for the Knicks. Kevin Knox became the sixth-youngest player to score at least 30 points in NBA history on Sunday evening and is the man to watch on Thursday evening. Knox has the body and skillset to become a complete NBA wing. His adaptation to the league prior to the return of Porzingis (and potential arrival of a big free agent) is crucial for the Knicks’ future.
Regardless of which side of the Atlantic they are playing on, these are games the Wizards cannot afford to drop. The Knicks were very impressive in the second half against Philadelphia on Sunday, but it’s a big ask to stop Beal if he can continue his 2019 form.