Jalen Brunson, Knicks brace for De’Aaron Fox’s return in a battle of Clutch leaders

De'Aaron Fox, New York Knicks

The New York Knicks have yet to submit their injury report. But based on the update given by New York coach Tom Thibodeau before their fall to the streak-busting Charlotte Hornets Tuesday night, there’s optimism that Jalen Brunson won’t miss a nationally televised game against De’Aaron Fox.

And so is Fox, who will return from a one-game rest due to a hamstring issue.

“We were just preparing for the Knicks,” Fox said following Wednesday’s practice. “We got up and down in practice just to make sure I was ready to go for the moment.”

“I feel good. I feel good. If I was still feeling the hamstring, I probably wouldn’t play.”

Fox missed Monday night’s game, but the Kings still handily beat the New Orleans Pelicans, 123-108, for their sixth win over their last seven games.

Brunson is also expected to be back after sitting out the Knicks’ last two games, giving him almost a week to let the soreness in his left foot subside. Thibodeau said before Tuesday night’s loss that Brunson felt better and will join the four-game West Coast trip.

Fireworks on TNT are expected Thursday night in a can’t-miss marquee matchup between Fox and Brunson, who are one and two in the NBA Clutch Ladder and predicted to duke it out for one of the guard spots in the three All-NBA teams at the end of the season.

Each guard has a strong case.

Fox was named to the All-Star reserves as an injury replacement for his stellar season, quarterbacking the surprising Kings, who are on the verge of ending their 16-season playoff drought.

They moved to second seed in the Western Conference after the Ja Morant-less Memphis Grizzlies fell to the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night.

Fox is one of the biggest reasons for the Kings’ stunning turnaround this season.

The foxy guard is having his best efficient season (51.5 percent shooting and 55.7 true shooting percentage) while averaging a career-high 25.5 points per game.

On the other hand, Brunson was one of the biggest All-Star snubs despite his career season and his impact on the surging Knicks.

Brunson was recently named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for guiding the Knicks to their best record in February since the 1989-90 season. The guard that cost the Knicks a second-round pick and only $104 million over four years is averaging 23.9 points and 6.2 assists in 35.2 minutes — all career highs.

Both guards thrive in the clutch, with Fox averaging a league-best 5.5 points and the most clutch points with 165. Brunson is hot on Fox’s tail with 131 total clutch points and 4.1 points per game.

Sure, it will be a high-octane showdown between their two teams, with the Kings owning the league’s best offense and the Knicks at no. 5, but when push comes to shove, Fox and Brunson will go mano-a-mano.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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