Dec 31, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) tries to steal the ball against New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) in the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
The Rockets will try to avoid their sixth straight loss when they play the fourth game of their five-game road trip against the New York Knicks. The Rockets trailed by 17 at halftime on Sunday against the Cavs but cut the lead to five at the end of the third quarter, only to be outscored 23-11 in the fourth.
Eye on the Knicks
Record: 42-33 (5th in Eastern Conference)
Offensive rating (rank): 116.3 (5th)
Defensive rating (rank): 113.9 (18th)
The Knicks enter Monday’s game on a three-game losing skid and are now closer to seventh-place Miami than fourth-place Cleveland in the Eastern Conference standings as New York tries to win its first playoff series since 2013, which is the only time they’ve won a playoff series since losing the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks are bottom 10 in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage, but they have a top-five offense because, among other things, they trail only the Rockets in offensive rebounding rate, and New York is top five in turnover rate and free throw attempts.
Matchup to watch: Jabari Smith Jr. vs. Julius Randle
Two years removed from an All-NBA selection, Randle is having the best season of his nine-year NBA career averaging 25.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while playing in every game, and he torched the Rockets for 35 points when the Knicks won by 20 at Toyota Center on New Year’s Eve. Smith was Randle’s primary defender that night, and he did a decent job, holding the Knicks forward to 13 points on 3-of-7 shooting, but he committed three fouls against him, and Randle finished the game with four offensive rebounds. Smith is at a size disadvantage against Randle, but he can compensate for that with his quickness at the other end of the floor. Foul trouble limited the Rockets rookie to less than 20 minutes in the previous matchup, so finding a way to stay on the floor will be paramount.
What I’m watching for
You don’t often see a team have a significant rest advantage at this point of the season, but the Knicks will have one on Monday. New York hasn’t played since Thursday, and the Rockets have played twice in the meantime, including on Sunday night in Cleveland. The break could not have come at a better for the Knicks, who did not have Jalen Brunson Thursday night due to a sprained right hand. He’s listed as questionable for this game, which is a game the Knicks have to win. They are just two games up on Miami with seven games to play in their quest to stay out of the play-in tournament.