New York Knicks (10-33); 14th in Eastern Conference; Last 10 games – 1-9
The mid-season win-loss record should not surprise anyone. Given the long-term absence of their best player Kristaps Porzingis as he recovers from an ACL injury, coach David Fizdale’s focus on the development of young players and the front office’s stated goal of rebuilding through the Draft, no one expected the Knicks to challenge for the playoffs this season.
Their overall record is tied with the Chicago Bulls for the second worst in the league which, if the season were to end today, would give them the joint-highest odds of landing the No 1 pick in the 2019 Draft. Given the variables in play at the start of the season, you could argue the Knicks are on target to achieve their main season goal.
But regardless of the circumstances, we can only judge the performances on the court. And the Knicks are what their record says they are.
Fizdale’s Knicks play with spirit – they pushed the superior Philadelphia 76ers all the way before succumbing 108-105 on Sunday night – and the team has had its moments and produced bright spots at sporadic points of the season.
Rookie Kevin Knox, the 19-year-old forward selected ninth in the 2018 Draft, has begun to see more opportunities on offense of late and responded with 31 points in the loss to the Sixers.
Earlier in the season, fellow rookie Mitchell Robinson, a 7ft 1in center, caught the eye with some spectacular blocks before going down with a groin injury in mid-December. A third rookie, the undrafted Allonzo Trier, has consistently provided a scoring spark off the bench and made headlines with some highlight-reel dunks.
But the Knicks, shorn of experience and star-power, routinely find themselves overmatched on most nights – and injury to leading scorer Tim Hardaway Jr and the absence of veteran center Enes Kanter have made it even tougher.
That’s ultimately why a win over the LeBron James-less Lakers is the Knicks’ sole ‘W’ in their last 10 games and why they will take the court at The O2 as underdogs.
Grade (last 10 games) – E
Washington Wizards (18-26), 11th in Eastern Conference; Last 10 games – 5-5
After a tumultuous opening to their campaign and reports of locker-room tension that left their season teetering on the edge of disaster, things have begun to turn around for the Washington Wizards.
The catalyst for this change of fortune? A season-ending heel injury suffered by their All-Star point guard John Wall.
In Wall’s absence, a season of perpetual struggle has become an opportunity for shooting guard Bradley Beal to step up as a leader and the de facto best player. He has responded to this challenge with relish.
Across four games in January thus far, Beal has been on fire, averaging 31.3 points, 4.0 three-pointers and 6.9 assists. A Herculean 55-minute, 43-point performance in a double-overtime loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night saw Beal make play after play to haul the Wizards back in contention before they ultimately fell short.
Beal has had help in the form of Trevor Ariza (acquired via trade from the Phoenix Suns in mid-December) who has brought the experience needed to get everyone in the locker room onto the same page.
Second-year guard Thomas Satoransky notched his first career triple-double in a January 11 win over the Milwaukee Bucks while young center Thomas Bryant posted big double-doubles in wins over the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks.
In their last five outings, the Wizards have recorded statement wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Milwaukee and the Philadelphia 76ers, performances that make a mockery of their lowly 11th place in the East.
For all their early struggles, the Wizards are only two games behind Charlotte, who occupy the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. They are a different team to the one that almost tore itself apart in the opening weeks of the season.
They have a legitimate shot at making the playoff and, in Beal, they have the player to take them there. They also, finally, have some momentum and will hope to continue that when they face the Knicks at The O2 on Thursday night.