It sure seems as if there’s been an excessive amount of injuries in the early going this NBA season. Maybe it just seems that way but I can’t recall the carnage that we’ve seen this year after a half dozen or so games. Two teams that have been hit hard by injuries will go at it on Sunday at Madison Square Garden as the New York Knicks host the Sacramento Kings. Both teams are 1-5 SU so far this year and both are mired in last place in their respective conference.
Sacramento started off going 0-5 SU and ATS before turning in a strong effort on Friday night at home against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz scrapped out a 1 point win but to the relief of head coach Luke Walton the effort was there. It decidedly *wasn’t* there when these teams played six days earlier in Salt Lake City. The Jazz flat out humiliated the Kings that night holding them to 37% shooting and beating them by 32 as -9 point home favorites. Unfortunately, it’s a learned aptitude to maintain this type of effort and Sacramento is not at that point yet. For that matter, there’s no evidence that this Kings’ team has learned how to succeed on the road. They were horrible away from home last season going 15-26 on the road. This was a marked contrast to their solid play in Sacto where they went 24-17 SU. They’ve lost both road games this year by huge margins dropping the game against the Jazz by 32 and their opening game at Phoenix by 29. They’ve now covered only 1 of their last 8 away games dating back to last season.
The Kings are currently without a couple of frontcourt players, most significantly Marvin Bagley III who averaged 14.9 PPG and 7.6 RPG last season. Sacramento expects big things out of Bagley but they’ll have to wait–he suffered a fractured thumb in the season opener and will miss 4 to 6 weeks. They’re also without backup forward/center Harry Giles III who is dealing with a sore knee.
With the obvious exception of the Golden State Warriors, there’s likely not a NBA team that has been hit harder by injuries than the Knicks. Their backcourt has been devastated–particularly at the one guard where they’re being forced to start their third string option Frank Ntilikina along with rookie scoring sensation RJ Barrett. New York is currently without Elfrid Payton, Dennis Smith, Jr., Kadeem Allen and Reggie Bullock and with the exception of Barrett these players represent almost their entire backcourt depth chart. These absences have really hurt the Knicks on offense where they’re barely scoring over 100 PPG.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that despite the barren backcourt New York has been turning in a nice effort on a nightly basis. The undermanned Knicks are now 4-2 ATS on the season and coming off a very feisty showing at Boston where they fought the Celtics tooth and nail before eventually losing a 104-102 decision that they easily covered as +9 underdogs.
The Knicks’ injuries have kept some significant improvement under wraps–particularly as it relates to team defense. Last year, the Knicks were ranked #22 in team defense allowing 113.8 PPG. So far this year they’re hanging in at 108 PPG which represents an improvement of 5.8 PPG. Making this turnaround all the more remarkable is the fact that they’ve done it with several of their best defenders watching from the stands. Last year, they had one of the worst points for/points against differentials in the NBA ranking #28 at -9.2 PPG. This year they’ve shaved more than two points off that deficit (-7.1 PPG) despite not really having any experienced guards to run the offense. They’re averaging just 100.8 PPG–not surprising given their injury issues–and have still shown some solid statistical improvement.
This is a winnable game for both teams and what will determine the outcome is effort. The Kings have turned in poor effort in every game but one this year and particularly on the road. The type of play that the Knicks have shown so far this season will be enough to get a win against this level of opposition. Expect this game to go ‘Under’–that’s how New York has to play to win at this point and the Knicks now ‘Under’ in five straight while Sacto ‘Under’ in four of six games this year.