Following Monday’s win over the third best player of the 2019 NBA Draft Class Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies, the New York Knicks have clinched a plus-.500 record for the first time since 2013. Also, the New York Knicks will be, at least, in the play-in.
Yeah, you read that right.
The Knicks are on the hottest teams in the NBA right now, having won 12 of their last 13 games. Over the last month, the Knicks have the best record in the NBA at 13-3.
Following them are the Denver Nuggets (13-4) and the Phoenix Suns (12-4), a couple of teams that the Knicks will play in what is left of this six-game road trip.
Following a loss to the Suns, which saw the Knicks’ nine-game winning streak come to an end, New York has bounced right back with wins over the Bulls, Rockets and aforementioned Grizzlies.
Imagine saying the following back in December?
With seven games left in the season, the Knicks are in fourth place, two games ahead of the Hawks in the loss column. The Knicks also hold the tiebreaker over Atlanta due to the Knicks’ season sweep over the Hawks. The Knicks are also two games ahead of the Miami Heat in the loss column, who sit in sixth in the East.
But ahead of the Knicks comes the toughest stretch of this six-game western road trip. As previously mentioned, the Knicks will be in Denver to take on the Nuggets before heading to The Valley to take on Chris Paul, Devin Booker and the Suns. The team will then head to SoCal for a game against both Los Angeles franchises.
Following the Bulls win which ended a little streak of games at The World’s Most Famous Arena, I took a look at the road trip and figured the Knicks could and should beat the Rockets and Grizzlies. They did.
Then I looked at what followed.
The MVP debate between Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic continues to be the topic of the NBA. Jokic has been playing incredible basketball of late and it’ll certainly be a tough defensive matchup for Taj Gibson and Norvel Pelle and even Nerlens Noel, who missed Monday’s game with a sprained ankle. If you thought the Nuggets would be less dangerous following the crushing season-ending injury to Jamal Murray, I recommend reconsidering. In the 11 games since Jamal Murray tore his ACL, the Nuggets are 9-2.
In their matchup earlier in the season in New York, Denver ran away with an easy win, 114-89. Jokic had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the win. Randle had 29 points and 10 rebounds, but did not get help from his supporting cast on that Sunday in January. Elfrid Payton was the next highest scorer that game with 12 points and if Payton is your second-highest scorer in any game, one can assume you certainly lost that game. Kevin Knox had 18 minutes in that game, which shows how long ago it was. RJ Barrett had nine points and nine rebounds.
But if the Knicks have shown us anything this season is that they will compete for 48 minutes. No more playing 24 minutes and realizing the game is out of reach and mail it in. Do I think they’ll beat the Nuggets? Objectively, no.
Do I think they have a shot? Objectively, yes, I do. Just as long Jokic is the only player to score 20-25+ points and if Randle and Barrett combine for at least 55 points.
Following that, they’ll head to Phoenix to take on the Suns in a battle of Coach of the Year candidates.
(Random: did you know most of Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings? Look it up, it’s true. It’s weird)
The Suns are battling for something, too. CP3 and D-Book have elevated this team to a top team in the west. As of Tuesday, they find themselves just 0.5 game back of the Jazz for the top seed in the Western Conference.
It’s been an incredible year for the Valley Boys. The Suns broke the hearts of Knicks fans not too long ago after Chris Paul iced the game with a wacky shot that falls once in 100 attempts. The Suns are currently on a quick two-game east coast swing as they’re in Cleveland on Tuesday and Atlanta on Wednesday before heading back home for the game against the Knicks.
Again, I’m sure the Knicks will be able to hold their own against the Suns again.
Then are the two games against the two LA teams. Now this is where things could get interesting. Both teams have been battling the injury bug, particularly the stars.
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has mentioned he has been battling with a foot ailment all season long. Four games back of the one seed in the West and with a spot in the playoffs already clinched, the Clippers aren’t exactly fighting for much right now. The Knicks fan in me says “If I were Ty Lue, I’d rest my stars for the rest of the season.” But that won’t happen considering the Clippers will have two days off before hosting the Knicks at STAPLES. If the Knicks can find a way to neutralize knackered Kawhi Leonard like Denver did on Saturday, New York could maybe sneak in a win here, too. The Clippers beat the Knicks on January 31 at The Garden, 129-115. Six different Clippers scored in double-digits. Can’t have that happen again.
Now this is where things get interesting and where I feel the most confident in regards to the Knicks picking up another win on this road trip.
After the Clippers, the Knicks will visit the Lakers. The Lakers are in a situation which they did not think they would be in back in December.
What if I told you back in December, that in the last month of the season, both the Knicks and Lakers would have the same record?
As of Tuesday, that is exactly the case.
Both teams are 37-28 with two weeks left in the season. The Knicks find themselves in a better position, seed-wise, at the moment. Can you believe that the Lakers are fighting for a top six seed?
Why is that?
The Lakers stars have been injured a lot this season. Anthony Davis and LeBron James have been out of extended periods of time. In their matchup earlier this season at The Garden, both Davis and James were out due to injury. Both of these men have returned to play, but James recently re-aggravated his sprained ankle. Davis seems like he hasn’t been hampered by the injury he had in his few games back after a 30-game hiatus, but James played in two games following his 20-game absence before being ruled out in the Lakers’ last game.
If James misses the Knicks game, that is where I think the Knicks could strike. It doesn’t seem like Davis will miss that game since it will be the first game of a back-to-back for Los Angeles. But if LeBron James is inactive, that is my best bet for the Knicks to pick up a third win in the gauntlet of a road trip.
I think a 3-3 road trip would fancy reasonable Knicks fans. This is a TOUGH stretch at such a critical time.
But if there is one thing this team has shown us from game one, it’s that they will play hard and keep it close for 48 minutes.
Fingers crossed for that golden fourth seed.
IN OTHER NEWS: Julius Randle and RJ Barrett are on the cover of SLAM magazine for the May 2021 edition. Enjoy.
Hear that? The Garden’s rocking again. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett cover SLAM 232.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) May 4, 2021