Following a tough loss to the Milwaukee Bucks last Monday, the Knicks rattled off three straight wins to move to an impressive 25-19 and take sole possession of 6th place in the Eastern Conference. The 6th place spot holds great importance now after the implementation of the play-in. For the Knicks to have as good of a chance as possible to do damage in the postseason, it would be ideal to stay at 6th or higher.
Taking Care of Business
A simple formula to being a good team is winning against the bad teams, and the Knicks did that this week. On Friday night against the Washington Wizards, the Knicks withstood 40 points from Kyle Kuzma to squeak out a 112-108 win. Jalen Brunson carried the load this game with an astounding 34 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.
In a Sunday afternoon matchup against the near last place Detroit Pistons, the Knicks once again handled their business in a 117-103 victory. Julius Randle put together an incredible performance with 42 points, 15 rebounds, and four assists.
So far this season, the Knicks are 18-8 vs teams below a .500 winning percentage. Eighteen wins is tied for the second most amongst teams in the Eastern Conference. This record has accounted for the difference between New York and the 7th place Miami Heat who are 16-10. With how important the 6th seed has become in the playoffs, it is imperative that this type of effort is continued against lesser teams. An 82-game season makes it so that losses against lesser teams is inevitable, but limiting that number will most likely be the difference between the 6th and 7th seed.
Knicks Litmus Test
This past week gave New York two intriguing matchups which in a way defined where the team stands amongst the Eastern Conference competition. The first matchup was against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks last Monday. The Bucks ended up taking home an incredibly hard fought 111-107 victory. Although the Knicks could not find a way to win, there were still some positives, but some negatives to take from this matchup.
Jalen Brunson has proven game after game that he was worth every penny of his 4 year $104 million deal. In a matchup against Jrue Holiday who is arguably the best defender at the point guard position, Brunson had 44 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Although Brunson put together one of his best game, his co-star was unable to provide the same effort.
Julius Randle really struggled as although he scored 25 points it was on an abysmal 9-29 from the field and 1-12 from three. One concern that is clear when watching this team is the how much of the offensive load Brunson and Randle are responsible for. The duo combined for 64 percent of the points which was a stark contrast to the way the Bucks scored the ball.
Antetokounmpo scored 22 points, but he only shot the ball 15 times. The Bucks had an impressive seven players score double digit points, while the Knicks had three players score 20 or more, but the other 6 scored no more than 4 points. Brunson and Randle are incredibly skilled players, however they will need more help than just each other to be able to beat a championship contender like the Bucks.
After losing to the Bucks on Monday, the Indiana Pacers came to New York on Wednesday. Coming into this game, the Pacers were actually ahead of the Knicks in the standings as Indiana was 23-18 compared to New York's 22-19. The Knicks took advantage of their chance to move up to 6th in the East as they won 119-113.
This win was an incredibly important one to pickup for the Knicks. The Pacers are right in the thick of the play-in with the Knicks, and if New York wants to avoid the play-in, they have to separate themselves from teams like the Pacers. Although the game was far from perfect, the Knicks led for the entirety of the game, and showed that they are more than capable of outplaying the Pacers. The Knicks sit in an interesting spot as they have shown signs of being a step above the current play-in teams, but they are also still a step behind the true contenders like the Bucks.
Although the Knicks have won their past three games, there has been a concerning trend that has formulated. The Knicks have put together at least a 15-point lead in each game, but the opponent was able cut it down to either a one or two possession game. The Knicks have been fortunate to stay on the winning end of these games, however at one point or another giving up these leads will turn into losses.
After beating the Pacers, the Knicks wins against the Wizards and Pistons moved them to the 6th seed at 25-19. Currently, the East is absolutely packed as there are only three games that separate the Knicks from the Nets from the 6th seed to the 2nd seed. However, one game stands between them going back to the 7th seed and the play-in.
The Knicks will look to continue their rise in the standings Monday night against the Toronto Raptors.