NEW YORK -- Just 2-7 in their last nine games -- but coming off a 100-96 win at Dallas on Monday that stopped a three-game losing streak -- the New York Knicks welcome the Chicago Bulls to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday in their first matchup this season.
Like the Knicks, the Bulls have been in a funk in recent weeks, losers of five of six, with their lone win coming over cellar-dwelling Dallas, as well.
Unfortunately for Chicago, the Bulls will have to wait just a few more days for the debut of Zach LaVine; the promising young shooting guard is expected to return on Saturday against Detroit for the first time since tearing his ACL last season as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"We got a date," LaVine told reporters on Tuesday. "I'm just happy to be able to go back. It just feels really good to have something to look forward to now. You get those butterflies and that anxious feeling, about to go out and do what I do again. So I'm extremely happy just to be back at this point."
Not only will the Bulls be without LaVine, who was acquired during the offseason in the trade that landed Minnesota former Chicago star Jimmy Butler, but they might be without the services of fourth-year power forward Nikola Mirotic, whom head coach Fred Hoiberg said was battling a stomach virus.
Despite only starting three games this season after missing more than 20 games with a broken jaw suffered during a fight with teammate Bobby Portis, Mirotic leads the Bulls in scoring at 17.4 points per game and ranks second on the team with 7.0 rebounds.
His absence will be a boon to the Knicks' low-post game, which has lacked production of late as Kristaps Porzingis' scoring has dropped. Porzingis had eight 30-point games in the season's first month but only three since. He scored just 44 points during a recent three-game stretch, shooting a combined 15 for 46 from the field, before scoring 29 points on Monday against the Mavericks.
"You have to make him uncomfortable. And he's 7-3, 7-4, can put the ball on the ground, can shoot it easily. He has moves, confidence, he's a great player. I was just trying to make it uncomfortable for him," Dallas' Wesley Matthews told reporters of Porzingis. "I got nothing against him. He's a great player. I actually like watching him play. He's tremendously talented, the future of our league. It's just competition, that's all that is. I (shook his hand) after the game. No beef there."
Like the Bulls, who should get an immediate boost from the return of LaVine, the Knicks may be getting a crucial backcourt contributor back in the near future.
Tim Hardaway Jr. was a full participant in practice on Tuesday, and his return is imminent, though New York has not given him a specific return date. Hardaway has missed 18 games since being sidelined in early December with a lower left leg stress injury.
Bulls, Knicks both hope to snap out of respective funks