Photo Credit: Alonzo Adams, AP

Paul George leads Thunder to victory

The Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t need superstar point guard Russell Westbrook to demolish the New York Knicks. George dropped 35 points to lead the Thunder to a 128-103 victory over the Knicks at home. Lately, the Knicks have been a punching bag for opponents. The loss against the Thunder is the third straight game the Knicks were blown out by 15+ points.

Currently, the Knicks are the youngest team in the NBA, and the result itself isn’t surprising. What’s surprising is the lack of fight the Knicks players have been showing lately in games. At the start of the season, it seemed like David Fizdale had the Knicks on the right track.

Despite not having the talent to overcome the best teams in the NBA, Fizdale had the Knicks playing with intensity each game. There wasn’t a game where the Knicks showed no fight. Now, the Knicks are playing like puppies, little barks with no bite. After a blowout loss, it’s hard to point out positives, but the negatives are overwhelming. Here are the three reasons why the Knicks lost.

There was too much weight on Tim Hardaway Jr.’s shoulders

In the offseason, one of the personal traits Hardaway Jr. worked on was his leadership. Fizdale noticed this and handed more responsibility to Hardaway Jr., especially on defense. On occasion, Hardaway Jr. can be found guarding the opposing teams biggest offensive threat. Tonight, Hardaway Jr. had the responsibility of locking down George. Unfortunately, George broke Hardaway Jr.’s lock on multiple occasions.

Hardaway Jr. expended too much energy on defense to try and stop George. As a result, his offense suffered. In the first half, Hardaway Jr. only scored 9 points. Without his usual offensive output, the Knicks suffered offensively. Hardaway Jr. did pick up steam in the third quarter and dropped 11 of his 20 points. Sadly, Hardaway Jr.’s sudden offensive outburst was too late as the Thunder ran rampant.

Perhaps a better option would have been to start Frank Ntilikina or Damyean Dotson to handle the load of guarding George. By doing this, Hardaway Jr. would have been able to concentrate on what he does best, which is to get buckets. Leaving Ntilikina and Dotson on the bench leads to the second reason why the Knicks lost.

The lineup change left a lot to be desired

Fizdale felt the need to shake things up, and rightfully so. The Knicks have been playing with a lack of effort lately. Therefore by altering the starting lineup, Fizdale is letting the players know that no one’s spot is safe. In tonight’s game, the alterations made to the starting lineup may have hurt the Knicks. Fizdale decided to move his two best perimeter defenders, Ntilikina and Dotson, to the bench and replace them with Emmanuel Mudiay and Kevin Knox.

Both Mudiay and Knox have been performing well lately, but both players aren’t the same caliber of defender that Ntilikina and Dotson are. At the moment, the Knicks are struggling offensively. From that standpoint, it’s not hard to understand the reasoning behind Fizdale’s inclusion of Mudiay and Knox into the lineup. Mudiay offers more of a change of pace at point guard, which could be beneficial to the offense, and Knox’s specialty is scoring the rock. The downside is by including both Mudiay and Knox into the lineup, the Knicks defense suffered.

Thunder shot 53.7% (51-95), 48.5% from deep (16-33), and dominated the paint, outscoring the Knicks 64-52. The ball movement by the Thunder had the Knicks running ragged, and the Knicks played matador defense throughout the game. Dennis Schroder infiltrated the paint so many times that it wouldn’t be surprising if fans thought he owned real estate there. Besides the Knicks struggles on defense, the Knicks have also struggled to start games well.

Knicks struggles in the first quarter continue

In the previous game against Orlando Magic, the Knicks started slowly and found themselves down by 20 at the end of the first quarter. The deficit was too large to overcome, and the Knicks faltered. Likewise, the Knicks fell behind by 15 in the first quarter to the Thunder, and of course, the Knicks faltered again. In both games, the Knicks never led, and dating back to the second half against the Raptors, the Knicks have lost ten quarters in a row.

What the Knicks need to do to win games

If the Knicks are to find their groove again and be more competitive, their defense has to improve first and foremost. At the moment, the Knicks do not have the offensive firepower to keep up with the best teams in the league. The best way to complement their lack of offensive ability is to play tough defense.

Last, but not least, the Knicks have to play with more energy to start games. Falling behind by 15+ points to start games will diminish the Knicks chances of winning. If the players can compete and keep the game close early, it’ll give the Knicks a better chance of pulling out a well-needed victory.

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