Struggling Knicks look to halt Ja Morant-led Grizzlies

Nearly 10 months ago, the New York Knicks pulled off an impressive comeback to get an overtime win over the Memphis Grizzlies, triggering a late-season surge that earned them the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Times are significantly different for both teams heading into Wednesday’s matchup at Madison Square Garden, as the Grizzlies are among the NBA’s hottest teams and the Knicks are trying to stay afloat in the race for a play-in berth.

The teams met twice in the final month of the 72-game regular season and in the April 9 meeting, the Knicks erased a 15-point deficit and a 13-point gap in the final 6:10 of regulation to earn a 133-129 overtime win. The comeback began a nine-game winning streak and a 16-4 finish to the season.

The Knicks hold a similar record to when last season’s run began but few are anticipating a similar run, especially with a five-game West Coast trip looming. New York is 2-6 in its past eight games since getting to one game over .500 with a nine-point win in Atlanta on Jan. 15.

New York is looking for a third straight home win after leading for the final 43:22 and by as many as 29 in Monday’s 116-96 rout of the Sacramento Kings. After a winless three-game trip through Cleveland, Miami and Milwaukee, the Knicks shot 50 percent for just the fifth time all season while getting steady performances from several key contributors on a night when RJ Barrett missed 10 of 14 shots.

Alec Burks led the Knicks with 21 points, Evan Fournier added 18 and Julius Randle contributed 17 for his second straight productive home game since being held to four points Jan. 20 against New Orleans.

«It was good. That was a tough road trip (where) we played the defending champions and a team first in the East,» Randle said. «It was a good challenge for us and good to observe and see championship habits and caliber teams because that’s what we’re striving for every day. It was good to see that. It motivated us and to get off to a good start on our home court was good.»

Memphis is 5-4 since winning 11 in a row Dec. 26-Jan. 13. That puts the Grizzlies at 16-4 in their past 20 contests since a three-game losing streak Dec. 19-23. Half of their wins in that span are by double digits.

Nobody on the Grizzlies is rolling better than Ja Morant, who has scored at least 30 points in a franchise-record seven straight games and in 17 games overall this season. He is averaging 35.4 points in the past seven and averaged 29.1 points in 15 games in January, including a 36-point showing Jan. 3 in Brooklyn.

Morant scored 37 points Monday when Memphis took a 122-119 overtime loss in Philadelphia. Morant scored 27 points in the paint and made 15 of 30 shots, but also missed all five 3-point tries and committed nine of the Grizzlies’ 14 turnovers.

«If there’s anybody you want to be mad at, it can be me,» Morant said. «I had nine turnovers and I missed big free throws. I didn’t make a 3. If you pick anybody to be mad at, pick me.»

The Grizzlies also missed nine of 28 free throws to negate a career night from Desmond Bane, who scored 34 points and is averaging 20.8 points in his past 12 contests.

–Field Level Media