1. The Knicks just fell short on Christmas Day in a 105-98 defeat to the Sixers. Kristaps Porzingis, Enes Kanter, and Courtney Lee combined for 73 points but New York could not overcome strong performances from Joel Embiid (25 points) and J.J. Redick (24 points) in the first matchup between the two teams this year. The Knicks are a half game behind Milwaukee and Miami for the eighth spot in the latest Eastern Conference standings as they hold a 17-16 overall mark heading into tonight’s contest in Chicago.
2. Kanter’s output against the Sixers was incredibly impressive. The big man sparkled on the main stage at Madison Square Garden by scoring 31 points on 57.1 percent shooting from the floor and he hauled down 22 rebounds (11 offensive). Remarkably, Kanter became only the fourth player in NBA history to post 30 points and 20 rebounds on Christmas. He joined a legendary group that includes Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Bob Lanier. Currently, Kanter ranks fourth in the league in offensive rebounds per game (3.9) and he’s tied for 13th in double-doubles (15). The 25-year old is averaging a career-best 14.1 points and 10.4 boards per outing entering the matchup against the Bulls tonight.
3. Tim Hardaway Jr. is progressing from a stress injury to his lower leg as he continues the rehabilitation process. New York’s second leading scorer has increased his on-court activities, including jumping. The team will monitor Hardaway Jr. and he will be re-evaluated weekly. Without Hardaway Jr. in the lineup, head coach Jeff Hornacek has placed Lance Thomas at the small forward spot and moved Lee to shooting guard.
4. Just 18 days ago, the Knicks and Bulls engaged in a wild battle in Chicago. The game featured 13 lead changes and six times it was tied. New York made an 8-0 run deep in the final quarter to cut the Bulls lead to just two points with 21.8 seconds on the game clock. With the game tied at 102-102, Lee was called for a shooting foul on a Kris Dunn’s drive to the tin. Dunn hit both free throws to push the advantage to 104-102. Unfortunately for New York, Porzingis’ game-winning attempt was slightly off and the road team suffered a narrow defeat. Chicago’s bench provided the heavy production as it combined to score 54 points in the December 9 win.
5. The Bulls are starting to find their groove, considering the team has reeled off nine wins in its last 11 contests. Chicago is now 11-22 after a 3-20 start to the 2017-18 campaign. Mirotic seems to be the catalyst for the resurgence of the Bulls as they are 8-2 when the forward steps on the floor. In 10 games, Mirotic is averaging a team-best 18.5 points and 7.6 rebounds in 25.5 minutes of court time.