by Jonah Ballow
NYKnicks.com
@jonahballow

8:30 PM ET | AT&T Center
TV:  MSG
Radio: ESPN 98.7 FM

1.  The Knicks looked poised to capture a road victory in Chicago last night prior to a late-game spurt from the Bulls.  Over the last four minutes of the contest, New York struggled from an offensive point while Chicago secured its second victory over the orange and blue this month.  Rookie Lauri Markkanen made two crucial plays down the stretch to help lift the Bulls to a home win.  Markkanen jumped out on the break after Kristaps Porzingis fell to the floor and he connected on a transition dunk.  He also broke up a play with 27 seconds remaining in the game as the Knicks trailed by two points.  Enes Kanter misfired an attempt from the arc with six seconds on the game clock and the Bulls improved to 8-2 in their last 10 games.  

2.  Last night, head coach Jeff Hornacek adjusted the starting lineup by placing Doug McDermott at the small forward spot.  Lance Thomas moved to the second unit as a defensive measure to matchup against Nikola Mirotic.  The strategy paid off, considering Mirotic was limited to just four points after he scored 19 against New York on December 9.  Hornacek could revert back to his original starting group with Thomas defending Kawhi Leonard tonight in San Antonio.  

3.  The Knicks are in the midst of a crucial stretch of games.  Tonight, the team squares off against the Spurs prior to another road game in New Orleans on Saturday night.  New York returns home to host San Antonio after the New Year but then hits the road again for four of its next five away from Madison Square Garden. 

4.  The Spurs have quietly flown under the radar this year.  Most national pundits are not including San Antonio as part of the NBA Finals discussion while the team is regaining full health on the roster.  Leonard returned to the lineup at the midpoint of December and the All-Star instantly provides a significant jolt to an already stout defense.  For the first time this season, the Spurs were completely healthy on Tuesday night in a win over Brooklyn.  San Antonio’s starting group is formidable as it features Tony Parker, Danny Green, Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol.  With the victory on Tuesday, the Spurs improved to a league-best 16-2 at home and 24-11 overall.

5.  New York’s offense will face a difficult test tonight in San Antonio.  Entering the matchup, the Spurs rank No. 3 in defensive rating and are holding opponents to just 98 points per game.  San Antonio is an elite shot-blocking group as it owns the second spot in the NBA heading into tonight’s tilt.