THE NBA makes its annual European detour on Thursday when the Washington Wizards face the New York Knicks at London’s 02 Arena. A contest perennially graced by the great and the good from the worlds of sport and entertainment.
But not, this year, by the superstars of the NBA itself with the marquee team members of each, John Wall and Kristaps Porzingis, bit sidelined and watching (if they so choose) from afar.
Their respective losses have accelerated a dive towards the lower reaches of the standings. This is a star-centric business after all. The Knicks, knowing from before last summer that the Latvia unicorn would likely miss this campaign, have had plenty of time to design to a tank job to pursue the one prize within their reach: top pick in the Lottery.
In the meantime, coach David Fizdale is looking for the occasional win as he looks towards free agency with the Knicks 1-9 over their last ten outings.
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 17, 2019
Wall’s mid-season calamity, by contrast, forced a rapid reassessment in D.C. The Wizards had hoped to contend for top four in the Eastern Conference. Their ambitions were already fallen short. This, most felt, was the ideal time to push the button on a reset.
Admirably, their remaining players and Scott Brooks have resisted that script. Washington remains in playoff contention in an East which will surely send a sub-.500 team into the post-season.
That’s been boosted by recent victories over Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City (plus taking the Raptors to double OT last weekend), leaving them just 3.5 games behind eighth-placed Charlotte heading into their British date.
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) January 16, 2019
Even without Wall, they are still scoring at a respectable rate of 113.5 per game and there are opportunities coming up against basement dwellers including Orlando, Detroit, Cleveland and Atlanta to keep up an unlikely push.
Bradley Beal scored 27 when the Wizards edged the Knicks 110-107 last season but with an exhibition feel to the UK diversion, have a look over 221.5 combined points. And for London to see just why New York may be a fellow great city but with a basketball team in need of a great fellow.
Best bet: Take over 221.5 combined points
London by the Numbers
10,000 – The Knicks have brought over 4,536kg. of equipment and training room supplies including sneakers, game uniforms, socks, medical supplies, training tables
3,362 – The Wizards will play in London as the home team, 3,362 miles away from their actual home arena – the Capital One Arena
91 – The NBA London Game 2019 presented by Norwegian will mark the league’s 91st game played in Europe, the most of any region outside the United States and Canada
30 – There have been 30 official Spalding NBA game basketballs transported to London ahead of the matchup
11 – The number of NBA teams that have played regular-season games in London since 2011
9 – The NBA London Game will be the NBA’s ninth straight sold-out, regular-season game in London
6 – The two teams feature six European players on their rosters. The Knicks feature Mario Hezonja (Croatia), Enes Kanter (Turkey), Frank Ntilikina (France) and Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia), and the Wizards feature Ian Mahinmi (France) and Tomas Satoransky (Czech Republic)
3 – This will be the Knicks’ third game in London, having played against the Detroit Pistons in 2013 and against the Milwaukee Bucks in 2015
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 17, 2019
Sunday has an intriguing clash between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors. Canada’s finest need no boosting. Riding high in the East. Looking every bit contenders for the Finals. On track.
Memphis’s season has gone horribly south since the point in late-November when they briefly topped the West. 7-20 since, they will have to decide soon on whether to trade Marc Gasol, whose sub-par play has been a factor in their decline.
Toronto has been ruthless of late, especially at home and with the Griz right at the foot of the NBA’s scoring charts, they face a mauling with -10 a decent margin to back the hosts.
Best bet: Take Washington at -6.5 over New York