In the midst of a three-day break between games that forward RJ Barrett described as "much needed," the New York Knicks turned their focus to a critical stretch run that will include matchups against a pair of opponents bracketing them in the standings.
But before the Knicks (42-33) can turn their attention to the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, both of whom they will face later this week, they will host the Houston Rockets on Monday in their first action since a 111-106 road loss to the Orlando Magic on Thursday, a game that wrapped up a stretch of 11 games since March 3, with eight of those on the road.
The Knicks are fifth in the Eastern Conference, wedged between the fourth-place Cavaliers and the Heat and Brooklyn Nets, who are tied for sixth.
New York is on the verge of securing a playoff berth and avoiding the play-in tournament, but because it's five games behind Cleveland in the loss column, the odds of securing home-court advantage in the first round appear minuscule at best.
"Everybody is fighting for something, and I look at it as a good thing that we get to go head-to-head with those teams that we're competing with," Barrett said. "I think that this next stretch is going to be good for us. It's going to be a test. But all in all, we've got to take it one day at a time."
Day one features the Rockets and their five-game losing skid. But after following a season-best nine-game winning streak with six losses in nine games, the Knicks need to rebound with three of their next four games at home.
"We just had (eight) road games in (20) days with a lot of travel involved with two back-to-backs in a short amount of time as well," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It's a chance to recharge, and then we go from there.
"We're 75 games in and guys have done a good job of fighting all season. We'll just continue to fight and think about Houston. That's where the focus needs to be, and take it day by day."
The Rockets' Jalen Green continued his season-closing surge with his 14th 30-point game in a 108-91 loss to the Cavaliers on Sunday. The second-year player shot 10 of 17 overall and 5 of 11 on 3-pointers en route to his 30 points, marking the fourth time in six games that Green has made at least 10 field goals.
What remains an issue for the Rockets (18-57) is their overall perimeter shooting. Excluding Green, the Rockets shot 1 of 14 from behind the arc against the Cavaliers, and that lack of additional 3-point threats inhibits Green and his ability to challenge defenses off the dribble.
The Rockets begin play Monday last in the NBA with a 32.6 percent shooting percentage on 3-pointers.
"We don't have much shooting on the floor. We made six 3s and Jalen made five of them," Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. "So that makes it a little bit tough.
"With more room (to operate), he would be able to do some more stuff, but he's figuring it out under really tough circumstances, so when it becomes easier the sky is the limit."
--Field Level Media