It will be a game of contrasts Wednesday night when the struggling New York Knicks visit the Toronto Raptors, who have been playing like the NBA champions they are.
The Knicks’ 103-101 loss to Brooklyn on Sunday was their third in a row. At 4-13 there are already questions about their ability to make the playoffs.
“You’ve got to look at the circumstances we’re in,” Knicks center Taj Gibson told reporters. “We’re in the East. Nobody’s running away. Maybe the top four teams. We’re still optimistic. If we get three wins in a row, you’re right back in the hunt.”
The Raptors are one of those top four teams in the Eastern Conference referred to by Gibson. They are 7-0 at home this season after holding Joel Embiid to no points in a 101-96 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.
The Raptors forced eight missed shots down the stretch as they went on a 10-0 run in the final four minutes against the 76ers.
“I thought we really started getting into them and stopped some of that DHO (dribble handoff) action,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We were just beating them to the spot, and I think we ended up with eight consecutive stops to end the game. That’s pretty good, especially in a close game like that.”
The Raptors got 25 points from Pascal Siakam and 24 from Fred VanVleet while Marc Gasol did good work on the double-teaming of Embiid, who was 0-for-11 from the field.
“Marc is a big body, he’s smart, he has being doing it for a while,” Siakam said. “He kind of understands how to guard, and positioning. Obviously, we’re helping but I think initially, his presence is a problem for a lot of people. When we are connected as a team on defense, we can do a lot of things out there.”
Gasol had three points, six rebounds and nine assists Monday, He has been solid in the absence of fellow center Serge Ibaka, who has missed eight games with a sprained ankle and did not practice Tuesday. He is listed as doubtful for Wednesday.
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry also has missed eight games with a fractured thumb and is expected to miss the rest of November. Rookie guard Matt Thomas added to the list of injuries Monday with a fractured finger suffered Saturday in the win over the Atlanta Hawks.
The game will be a homecoming for Knicks 19-year-old rookie guard RJ Barrett, a lottery pick in the draft. He missed the Nets game Sunday because of illness. In 16 games, Barrett has averaged 15.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 41.3 percent (34.7 percent on 3s).
Barrett, who was listed as questionable for Wednesday, is one ray of hope for the Knicks, who are trying to stay optimistic about their season.
“It’s tough,” Gibson said. “It’s a bitter taste for me. I’ve been in the playoffs my whole career. One thing is to continue to work. Once you let down, teams will not feel sorry for you. Everyone in this locker room is always optimistic, smiling and always eager to do better.”
Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina is listed as questionable for Wednesday with a bruised left quadriceps and sore groin. Knicks forward Kevin Knox II is listed as doubtful with a bruised left quadriceps.
–Field Level Media