The longest active winning streak in the NBA’s Eastern Conference?

Three straight wins for the New York Knickerbockers.

The NBA season heads into its final full month later this week and the franchise that has not made the playoffs since 2013 sits in the top half of the East. 

But the Knicks are right on the doorstep of going from “hosting a playoff series” to “playing in the play-in.” The Knicks are two games ahead of the ninth spot in the East and five games ahead of falling out of the top ten. While I don’t think the latter is going to happen, given what we’ve seen from this team this season, it’s still worth mentioning.

The play-in games are scheduled for May 18 with the playoffs beginning on May 21.

Let’s take a look at the last three games for the Knicks.

On Tuesday, they hosted the Wizards and destroyed them. Knicks forward Julius Randle erupted for 37 points in 38 minutes. Swingman RJ Barrett had a great game as well, adding 21 points, five rebounds and five assists. All in all, six different Knicks scored in double digits as the Knicks cruised.

New York then hosted Washington again on Thursday. It was the complete opposite story. The Knicks couldn’t hit water if they were standing on a dock. But, New York found some momentum after holding the Wizards to just 18 points in the third quarter. Entering the fourth quarter, the Knicks trailed 78-67 and New York turned it up a notch. They changed their defensive strategy and forced former MVP Russell Westbrook to take contested jumpers. They outscored Washington 39-24 in the final frame to complete the comeback, 106-102, despite shooting 37% from the field and 25% from downtown.

The Knicks then went to Milwaukee for what everyone thought would be a battle of All-Stars between Randle and Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, Randle collided with a teammate in the Wizards game and injured his thigh. He got some work done on the affected leg on the bench and finished the game against Washington, but sat out for the game against the Bucks. On the flip side, with a knock on his knee and headed into the second game of a back-to-back, Antetokounmpo sat out as well. Donte DiVicenzo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday all sat out as well due to injury.

Suddenly, this game became winnable for New York despite not having their own star. 

But the Knicks caught a tough break with the injury bug striking again. With six minutes under his belt in his third game back from a fractured hand, center Mitchell Robinson fell awkwardly reaching in for a steal. He fell, grabbed at his foot and stayed on the floor grimacing in pain as the Knicks forced the turnover and turned it into a bucket on the other end. Robinson limped off and needed to be helped into the locker room. The initial reports are a fractured foot for Robinson, though the Knicks have not made any announcement regarding the injury or a timetable to return.

With Robinson hurt, and with the Bucks playing with an eight man rotation, Barrett rose to the challenge and cashed in another 21 points with seven dimes and seven rebounds. Derrick Rose, who returned after his bout with COVID-19, and Immanuel Quickley also chipped in with 13 points a piece as the Knicks pulled away late from the fighting Bucks, 102-96.

Knicks fans are relishing the play of Randle, Barrett and Quickley and even the play of Rose off the bench. 

But over the past five games, Alec Burks has been enormous for the Knicks. He has put up at least 20 points in each of those five games. Going back to six games ago, Burks scored 19. He’s been automatic for New York and, suddenly, every time Burks squares up for a jumper, you whisper “bang” before he releases. He’s been so good. He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. I like Burks. I think President Leon Rose should ink him to a deal and return to New York because he has been huge. 

Additionally, another reason the Knicks were able to close down the stretch: starting point guard Elfrid Payton has been a spectator during crunch time. 

I know, I continue to beat the same drum, but Payton cannot play point guard. The ball just stops moving, he has horrendous shot selection and can never find an open teammate. During the Tuesday game against the Wizards, the Wizards went on a 14-8 run to open the game. Westbrook drew two quick fouls on Payton and forced Payton to the bench. The Knicks immediately went on a 31-17 run to close the first quarter. He has been sitting on the bench while the competent players close games out. It’s day and night with this team when Payton is off the court. Thibodeau has to see this, he is a great basketball mind, he cannot ignore this blatant difference. 

IN OTHER NEWS: On Thursday, the Knicks traded for Terrance Ferguson and Vincent Poirier. On Sunday, Yahoo’s Shams Charania reported the Knicks had waived the two players, opening two roster spots. With the injury to Robinson, I wouldn’t hate if the Knicks called up DeMarcus Cousins to see what’s up with him. I also wouldn’t hate if the Knicks called up the agent of a competent point guard.

Following Saturday’s win, Rose was being interviewed by Mike Breen post-game and Breen broke the news of Robinson’s foot fracture. Rose’s reaction shows how close this team is.

On Sunday, Knicks assistant coach Mike Woodson agreed to become the new head basketball coach at Indiana University, his alma mater. Woodson’s new role is effective immediately. Reports say it’s a six-year deal for the former Knick. This is Woodson’s first head coaching gig since he was the Knicks head coach from 2012-14. Woodson is the last head coach to lead New York to the playoffs. 

WHO GOT NEXT?: An interesting and busy week is ahead for the Knicks. They host the 8-seeded Miami Heat on Monday night. They will then travel to Minneapolis to take on the worst team in the NBA, the Timberwolves for a meeting on Wednesday night. They’ll be back at Madison Square Garden for an intriguing matchup as Luka Doncic and some other guy and the Dallas Mavericks visit New York on Friday night. They’ll immediately get on a plane and fly to Detroit to take on the Pistons on Saturday night. 

T/W: @ERodriguez_TV

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