Following a 1-3 stretch for the most part without Jalen Brunson, the Knicks fell to 6th place behind the Nets. This past week, New York only had two games to play over the seven day stretch. In the two games, New York took full advantage of their opportunities as they beat both the Trail Blazers and Nuggets.
On the other hand, the Nets lost all three of their games this week slid them back below the Knicks. New York now holds a two and a half game lead over Brooklyn with only 10 games remaining in the season. The Knicks themselves trail the Cavaliers by two and a half games for the 4th seed and home court advantage in the 1st round.
Josh Hart's Revenge
In the final game of their four game west coast road trip, New York faced off against Portland. The Knicks and Trailblazers a few weeks ago made the move sending Josh Hart to New York and Cam Reddish plus draft capital to Portland. For New York, the trade immediately led to a 9 game win streak skyrocketing the team up the standings. Hart has been an enormous piece off the bench and has finished numerous close games since joining the team.
Although there were no hard feelings from Hart to Portland from the trade, it is always a bit of a slight to a player when they are moved. Clearly, Hart had some revenge on his mind with the way he played Tuesday night. Off the bench, Hart had 16 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and three steals. This has arguably been his most impressive box score performance since dawning the orange and blue, as Hart has continued to be an incredibly impactful player.
Interestingly, the counterpart of the Hart trade, Cam Reddish had a dreadful game for the Trailblazers. Reddish scored only 2 points on 1-6 shooting in the 19 minutes he played. He was also a game worst -27 plus/minus. On the other hand, Hart had a game leading +26 plus/minus. If there was somehow any more of a need to prove that trading for Hart was worth doing, this game would certainly put that discussion to bed.
Jalen Brunson remained sidelined for this game in Portland, but Immanuel Quickley played about as well as he could in replacement of Brunson. In his final game replacing Brunson as the starter, Quickley had a team-high 26 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. Quickley did a more than serviceable job stepping in for Brunson, but he will now head back to the bench giving the Knicks back the depth that helped them so greatly in their win streak a few weeks ago.
Knicks Complete Comeback Versus Denver
In Brunson's first game back from injury, New York was immediately tasked with the West's top seed Denver Nuggets. The Knicks trailed for the majority of the game, and Denver's lead extended to as high as 13 points halfway through the third quarter. From that point on though, New York held the Nuggets to a mere 26 points in the final 18 minutes of the game. That defensive effort allowed the Knicks to score just enough points to come out with a 116-110 victory.
In total, the Nuggets were only able to score 43 points in the second half. Back-to-back MVP winner Nikola Jokic had four turnovers in the 2nd half, and in the 4th quarter only shot 2-6 from the field and 0-3 from the three point line. The length on the perimeter from Hart, Barrett, and Randle combined with the interior presence of Mitchell Robinson has the ability to truly disrupt an offense, and it was clear that Jokic impacted by the tough Knick defense.
RJ Barrett played some of his best basketball in this game against the Nuggets as well as in Portland. He was far more aggressive in attacking the basket, as against Denver he scored 13 of his 21 points either in the paint or at the free throw line. At Portland, he scored 17 of his 22 points in the paint or at the free throw line. In the two games combined he only attempted six three-pointers.
As a result of shooting far less three pointers, Barrett was far more efficient as he shot 8-13 in the two games. This is not to say Barrett should be passing up good looks at three-point shots, rather it appears that when Barrett is more aggressive in attacking the basket he benefits not only himself but the team as well. With Brunson and Randle attracting most of the defensive attention, Barrett has both more space to work with, and a more favorable matchup to attack. If he continues to play like he did during the course of last week, Barrett can truly solidify himself as the third option heading into the playoffs.
With only 10 games remaining left in the season, New York has three games ahead of them this week including the Timberwolves, Heat and Magic. The Knicks must finish these final games strong, as seen by the Nets any type of slip can dramatically change playoff seeding.
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