Conventional thinking in the form of many NBA media members suggested that the New York Knicks would, to some degree, fall off by now, and rightfully so. They’ve had one of the league’s most challenging schedules since March’s All-Star break and that will remain as such through the end of the season.
But still, with 15 games to go, the 30-27 Knicks are still above .500, still firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and only 0.5 games out of a possible four-seed. Imagine the Knicks getting homecourt during round one of the playoffs.
And still, in the second half of April, they’re allowing the NBA’s fewest points per game (104.2), and despite their shift in schedule difficulty, they’re 11-9 since the All-Star break and are now on a five-game winning streak. Furthermore, Julius Randle — who still hasn’t fallen off either — just dropped 44 points, 10 rebounds, and even assists in a road win against the Dallas Mavericks, the first 40-10-5 game the Knicks have had since Bernard King 36 years ago.
Over their 11-9 stretch, sure, the Knicks have wins over the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, and two over the Washington Wizards. But, fulfilling the mark of a true playoff team, they’ve also defeated some tough teams they normally might not have, like the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers (even without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, they’re credible), New Orleans Pelicans, Toronto Raptors, and now, the Mavericks.
It’s not like the Knicks are defeating the best teams in the NBA, but they’re handling who they should on the schedule, pulling out some 50-50 efforts, and nearly toppling said elite units as well, much as they did early on. Since the break, they’ve lost by five points or less to the Brooklyn Nets twice, Philadelphia 76ers twice, and the Boston Celtics. All but one of those games was on the road, too.
And Randle … Randle. This dude still has it.
In the 19 games since the break, he’s averaging 24.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 6.9 assists. His field goal percentage has taken a hit, and he’s only shot 43-percent since, but he’s over 41-percent on threes and close to 80-percent from the foul line. He not only has this 40-10-5 outing but there was also a 17-assist game against the Orlando Magic last month. I don’t care how high you were on Randle or that Kobe Bryant once called him Lamar Odom in Zach Randolph’s body, virtually no one saw a 17-assist game coming for him.
And beyond that, RJ Barrett is quietly coming into his own. Since the break, Barrett’s posting 18.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game while having shooting splits of 46 / 43 / 74. The 43-percent from three is the big one seeing as how his shot had been a question coming out of Duke, and he had been a career low-30’s three-point shooter before this newfound stroke.
The Knicks are still about to embark on a six-game homestand, followed by a five-game Western Conference road trip, then finish their season with three straight games back at Madison Square Garden. Among the teams they’ll face are the Celtics, Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets twice, and Phoenix Suns twice. So clearly, they’re not unscathed at all yet, but they’ve navigated the season in a way no one expected.
Who’s to say it couldn’t continue if healthy?