The Clippers are in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks, always a fun game – but one that could be hugely memorable if it marks the debut of one James Harden in a Clippers jersey.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
When: 4:30 PM PT
How to Watch: Bally Sports SoCal, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Russell Westbrook – James Harden – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Ivica Zubac
Knicks: Jalen Brunson – Quentin Grimes – Josh Hart – Julius Randle – Mitchell Robinson
Clippers: Terance Mann Out (ankle), Brandon Boston Jr. Out (quad)
Knicks: RJ Barrett Questionable (knee)
The Big Picture
The Clippers are 3-2 and have the third-best Net Rating in the NBA with top-5 marks on both offense and defense, yet just about the entirety of their first 6% of the season (5/82!) can be thrown out due to the Harden trade. It’s been reported that Harden was targeting this game against the Knicks as his Clippers’ debut, and with four days to acclimate into the Clippers’ system and learn their plays, he should be ready. It remains to be seen how the Clippers’ starting lineup and overall rotations will be effected by Harden, but there’s no doubting the sheer starpower on the roster. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have looked great to start the season, and adding a 21 and 10 guy in Harden should help juice the offense that much more.
The Knicks are 2-4 to start the season but boast the 10th best Net Rating in the NBA. This is entirely due to their 3rd ranked defense, as their offense currently places a miserable 29th. Julius Randle is struggling mightily, as he has every even season for the past half-decade, and the Knicks are also getting very little on offense from starting center Mitchell Robinson. As ever, the Knicks bench is a rollicking group, with Immanuel Quickley one of the best bench players in the NBA and Isaiah Hartenstein having a real argument as back backup center. The guy to watch for the Clippers is Jalen Brunson, who has continued his play from his All-Star season last year and is the kind of twitchy small guard the Clippers have long struggled defending. If Harden starts, it will be interesting to see who takes Brunson – probably either Westbrook or George.
New Starting Lineup: If the Clippers do start James Harden in his debut, which seems likely, the question mark then shifts to the fifth starter. Based on how the Clippers have talked about Russell Westbrook, it seems like he’d still be starting, regardless of fit issues. This is especially true with Terance Mann most likely not playing – if he was, maybe he’d get that spot. Bones Hyland has started the two games since the trade, but him starting over Russ does not seem realistic. The last potential option is PJ Tucker, who is theoretically a four that adds size, toughness, and rebounding. However, his offensive weaknesses and lack of spacing would seem to make him a tough fit, even if he does have many years experience playing with Harden. In order of likelihood I’d go with Russ, Tucker, Mann, and Bones as the final starter.
Rebounding: Even if the Clippers start PJ Tucker at power forward, they will be dramatically undersized against the Randle-Robinson frontcourt. The Knicks are not a great offensive team, but they are physical and aggressive on the offensive glass, averaging 14.8 per game (2nd in the NBA). The Clippers are just an average rebounding team, and the size advantage Paul George and Kawhi Leonard usually have at the 2 and 3 will be mitigated if they shift to the 3 and 4 respectively. If the Clippers can keep the Knicks from getting too many second chance points, they should be able to outscore the Knicks with their dramatically superior firepower.
The Bench: If Russ does start, the Clippers would seem to have four bench players penciled in with Bones, Norm Powell, Tucker, and Mason Plumlee. Does Ty Lue stick with a 10 man rotation? If so, does he go with Kobe Brown (his choice against the Lakers) or Amir Coffey? If Terance does play, do the Clippers keep all five of those guys in the rotation, or does Tucker maybe take a seat? I do think when Terance is healthy Ty will keep the rotation at 10, with most of the bench players getting a pretty small dose of minutes. But if not, I don’t know if either Coffey or Brown gets rotation time.