Julius Randle has an MVP ballot case; Derrick Rose is turning back the clock, Obi Toppin is hitting transition threes, and R.J. Barrett is still showing immense growth.
For the first time since their memorable, joyous, and outlier, 54-win season, the New York Knicks have won nine straight games. They haven’t won a playoff series since then either, but they, at last, have the makings of a squad who is likely to piss someone off around this time next month. For comparison’s sake, they’re now the only team outside of the Utah Jazz with a winning streak that long this season.
Incidentally, the previous nine-game Knicks winning streak actually extended to 13 before an overtime loss to current Coach of the Year candidate Tom Thibodeau, who has unquestionably left his imprint on this team. The Knicks defeated the Toronto Raptors 120-103 in a nationally televised Saturday afternoon (old-school!) game, and they’re now 34-27, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Randle, the odds-on favorite to win this season’s Most Improved Player Award, finished with 31 points, and 10 rebounds on 10-of-17 shooting from the field, including 5-of-7 makes on three point attempts. He’s also proving he’s worthy of residing on the actual MVP ballot of your favorite (or least favorite) voters when the time comes, beyond the serenades from the thousands in attendance at Madison Square Garden today.
It takes five for a ballot, and Randle’s case is better than most as he continues to lead a team no one foresaw playing important basketball this late in the season. Randle’s still averaging over 24 points, close to 11 rebounds, and over six assists with 11 games remaining. Most shocking of all, he’s shooting over 40-percent from three at over five attempts per game.
Rose was (somewhat controversially) acquired from the Detroit Pistons on February 8 in exchange for Dennis Smith and a second-round pick. Since then, he’s been one of the most impactful players on the roster. He came into the afternoon scoring over 13 points per game on 45 / 37 / 84 shooting splits, and today he exploded for 19 points and seven assists off the bench while shooting 7-for-10 and being a +26.
He also violated Pascal Siakam by taking him ice skating on a spring Saturday.
Toppin in transition and not dunking? Toppin only had a nine-minute cameo but it came with nine points, all of which arrived from three-point land.
And Barrett continues to have an unheralded awakening in year two that should be garnering more attention considering the Knicks’ rise. But alas, the Duke alum and top-three pick from the 2019 Draft finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and shot 8-of-16 from the field, including 3-of-7 makes from three and 6-of-7 free throws. Barrett was also a +23, second only to Rose’s +26 today.
Now, the Knicks are also nearly as close to the third spot than the play-in, sitting just 3.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks — which will likely go back to four after they beat the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers today — and 2.5 games ahead of the seventh-seeded Miami Heat.
Moreover, the Knicks shot 56 percent from the field, 51 percent from three, and 83 percent on free throws as a team. And, let’s be honest, these dudes were not going to lose in front of Benny The Butcher. That’s not What Would Chine Gun Do.