The New York Knicks pushed their winning streak to seven and continued their climb up the Eastern Conference standings with a 142-118 dismantling of the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. After a relatively slow start to the season, the Knicks are playing their best ball at the right time, with the playoffs rapidly approaching.
The Knicks have the second-longest active winning steak in the NBA, behind only the Milwaukee Bucks' string 16 victories. At 37-27, the Knicks have already equaled their win total from last season, and they now sit just a game and a half behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fourth seed in the East with 18 games left to play.
As they have been all season, the Knicks were led by the duo of Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle in the victory over the floundering Nets, who have dropped four straight. Brunson tallied 39 points, six assists and five rebounds, while Randle added 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
While Randle is a familiar face in New York, Brunson is the new addition, and his signing has proved to be one of the most monumental moves made last summer. While some wondered if the Knicks overpaid for Brunson prior to the start of the season, he seems to have made it a mission to prove that they didn't. Over the past 15 games, Brunson is averaging nearly 29 points per performance while adding close to six assists and shooting well over 50 percent from the field.
Brunson's presence has opened things up for New York's offense in a major way. They currently have the fifth-ranked offense in the entire NBA after finishing 23rd overall in that category last season. His impact is evident to everyone, including his teammates.
"It's just great," Randle said of playing with Brunson after the win over Brooklyn. "It makes the game easier for all of us. He's making plays and being efficient, and we're winning."
It's not just Brunson and Randle, though. The Knicks have been getting contributions from up and down the roster during their current streak. Immanuel Quickley has provided reliable, consistent production off of the bench, and R.J. Barrett has been a decent, albeit somewhat inconsistent, third option. Also, after missing over a month of action following thumb surgery, Mitchell Robinson has posted four straight double-doubles.
Josh Hart, who the Knicks traded for prior to the trade deadline, has also made a positive two-way impact. He's averaged over 12 points, five rebounds and three assists per performance. New York's current winning streak also happens to coincide with Hart's arrival, as he's 7-0 as a Knick.
"I feel like right now we are clicking on all cylinders," guard Quentin Grimes said. "Everybody is playing unselfish and playing for one another."
As a team with the seventh-best net rating in the NBA, the Knicks are really starting to feel like a legitimate playoff team as opposed to a postseason hopeful, which is how they were viewed earlier in the season. The results back that up, too, as they recorded victories over the Heat, 76ers, Hawks and Celtics in February. All of those teams are in the thick of the playoff picture in the East.
If they continue to play at the high level they've established over the past couple of weeks, the Knicks will not only ensure that they'll avoid the play-in tournament, but they'll also have a real chance to move up into the fourth spot in the standings, which would mean home court advantage in the first round. After failing to qualify for postseason play last year, that would be a pretty impressive accomplishment. The team has bigger goals though.
"We don't want to make the playoffs. We want to make a run in the playoffs," Hart said. "And I think we have the capability to do that."