Coming off their biggest win in months, perhaps their biggest win of the season, the New York Knicks host the visiting Chicago Bulls on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks scored a 124-101 win over the visiting Charlotte Hornets on Saturday, snapping a nine-game losing streak, by tightening up a defense that has struggled throughout the season.
Coming into the game, the Hornets had been shooting the ball efficiently, hitting 48 percent of their shots in a four-point loss to Atlanta on Tuesday and 53 percent in a 12-point win over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday. New York held Charlotte to 37-percent shooting, including 27 percent from 3-point range, and the Knicks bottled up Hornets center Dwight Howard, holding him to 14 points after he had scored 30 points three times in recent games.
New York head coach Jeff Hornacek singled out starting forward Lance Thomas for putting the clamps on Nic Batum, who scored two points on 1-for-7 shooting.
“I think the biggest thing was they got after it defensively,” Hornacek told reporters after the game. “I thought Lance was fantastic in the third quarter. He made some big plays. (Nic) Batum, played him great. He helped to slow him down.”
Chicago enters the matchup having gone 4-4 in their last eight games while trading wins and losses. In wins, the Bulls have shot well. In losses, they have not.
Limiting Chicago has been the absence or continued nagging injuries to their three best players, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.
LaVine is still working his way back from a torn ACL that he suffered last year.
Markkanen has battled lower back spasms that have kept him out three straight games, and his status for Monday’s game is in question.
Dunn sprained a toe in a win against Memphis last week.
“(Dunn), Lauri and Zach were hurt so we’ve got to pick it up,” said Bulls forward Denzel Valentine, who led the team with 34 points on Saturday night in a loss to Cleveland. “Guys played hard and we fought to the end. Best player on the planet (LeBron James recorded his 15th triple-double of the season) just put the team on his back and got a win.”
This will be the two teams’ final matchup of the season, and the first three games played out in vastly different fashions, though Chicago won each time.
The teams first met on Dec. 9, when Dunn hit two free throws with 2.9 seconds left to give the Bulls a 104-102 lead. Chicago shot 51 percent from the field that day as the since-traded Nikola Mirotic hit 6 of 10 shots to lead the team with 19 points.
Eighteen days later, the Bulls again defeated the Knicks, 92-87, holding them to three points in the last five minutes before rallying to take the win.
The last time the teams met, Markannen had his best game as a pro, scoring 33 points while hitting 8 of 15 3-pointers and adding 10 assists in a 122-119 double-overtime win for the Bulls.
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