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Jan 16, 2024 6:18 pm

Knicks eye Jalen Brunson’s return when they face Rockets

A slow start Saturday night and an inability to finish Monday afternoon.

The past two games have proved Jalen Brunson is the missing piece for the New York Knicks.

The Knicks will hope to welcome Brunson back to the lineup Wednesday night when they host the Houston Rockets in the first game of the season between the teams.

Both teams were off Tuesday after suffering losses Monday afternoon. The host Knicks squandered a seven-point lead over the final seven minutes and fell to the Orlando Magic 98-94 while the visiting Rockets trailed almost wire-to-wire in a 124-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Brunson, who suffered a bruised calf in a 128-124 loss to the Dallas Mavericks last Thursday, worked out prior to the game Monday — as he did Saturday, when the Knicks beat the Memphis Grizzlies 106-94 — before being scratched.

Brunson is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game.

“When he’s ready, he’s ready,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We’ve got more than enough to win.”

That was the case against the undermanned Grizzlies, who led 57-53 at the half before New York mounted a comeback.

But the absence of Brunson — who is shooting a career-best 42.4 percent from 3-point land and is averaging 25.8 points and 6.4 assists per game, each of which would also the best marks of his six-year NBA tenure — was particularly magnified Monday, when the Knicks went 2-of-13 from the field, including 0-for-7 from 3-point land, after OG Anunoby’s 3-pointer extended their lead to 88-81 with 7:30 left.

“Obviously, it is more difficult,” Knicks guard Josh Hart said of playing without Brunson. “You know you’re missing 25 a game and there’s someone who can control the pace of the game. That’s difficult to replace.”

The Rockets are reasonably healthy — guard Dillon Brooks has scored 30 points combined in the past two games after missing the previous nine contests due to a right oblique strain — but coach Ime Udoka was displeased Monday with the performance of Brooks and his fellow starters Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr. and Fred VanVleet.

Udoka called a timeout just 76 seconds into the game after Smith and Sengun turned the ball over on consecutive possessions. The Rockets took their lone lead at 17-16 on a floater by Sengun before the 76ers finished the quarter on a 17-2 run during which Houston was 1-for-8 from the field with two turnovers.

“Some of the things that we talked about during pregame and showed on film — they did the opposite from the first few possessions,” Udoka said. “They are a team that swarm to the ball, play physical. That happened during the first few possessions. That was the reason for the quick timeout.”

The 76ers led by as many as 28 in the second quarter before Green scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter as Houston outscored Philadelphia 38-26.

“In general, I did not love the performance from our starters,” Udoka said. “He (Green) was able to get things going late. But you have to come out with that intensity from the start.”

–Field Level Media

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