Two days after hosting the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference in a 121-112 loss to the Boston Celtics, the struggling New York Knicks welcome the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors to Madison Square Garden on Monday night at 7:30 p.m.
Talk about a devastating 1-2 punch, for a team that’s long been on the ropes.
After a brief reprieve — a 120-113 decision at Orlando on Thursday that was the Knicks’ first win since Jan. 30 — New York must halt the NBA’s best scoring offense, two days after trying to fend off the league’s second-best scoring defense.
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New York knew the storm into which it was heading for the two-game set, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
“They’re going to be tough,” center Kyle O’Quinn said. “Obviously Boston and Golden State are two much different teams than an Orlando Magic team who has good guys, I love those guys out there, but much different squad. They present some challenges. They have dynamic bigs that are pretty good. Both have all-star caliber players that I think if we go out there, play as hard as we can and believe in ourselves, we’ll give ourselves a chance like we did in Orlando.”
Unfortunately for the Knicks, the Warriors have just a bit more firepower than the Magic.
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have traded standout performances in recent weeks, with Curry dropping 44 points on Thursday in a 134-127 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, eight days after Kevin Durant had 50 in a six-point loss to the Portland Trailblazers.
On the season, Curry is averaging 27 points, fourth-best in the NBA, and Durant is averaging 26. Add in Klay Thompson, who is averaging 20, and the Knicks will have to scramble just to find the open shooter.
“It’s going to be challenging like every other game,” Knicks rookie guard Frank Ntilikina said. “We know that they’re offensively very talented so we’re going to have to step up and try to limit them.”
Golden State, meanwhile, is looking to find the ruthlessness that has defined their four-year run among the league’s legendary squads.
The Warriors, who started the season 4-3 before reeling off wins in nine of their next 10 games, have lost three games in February, including a 20-point loss at the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 6.
The Warriors made up for that loss with a 112-80 win over the Thunder on Saturday. Durant had 28 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, 67 percent shooting from long distance, and 100 percent shooting from the free-throw line.
It was an important win for Durant and his semi-new squad: The Warriors lost twice to Oklahoma City earlier this season.
“We just didn’t want to lose,” Durant told reporters after the game. “We know we can get beat obviously if we don’t come play with force. If we want to win a championship, we’ll have to lock down on the defensive end and rebound.”