Make that six wins in a row for the New York Knicks.
New York moved to 32-27 on the season with a 122-112 overtime win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. With less than a month remaining in the regular season, the Knicks have strengthened their hold on a top-six seed in the Eastern Conference and are within a half-game of the fourth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.
As the Knicks inch closer and closer to snapping an eight-year postseason drought, the focus now shifts to how successful they can be once they return to that stage.
There are a few elements from Sunday's win that showed that New York can make some legitimate noise with the right matchup.
It starts with Julius Randle
New York's All-Star has lived up to the billing, finishing with 33 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and five steals in the win over his former team.
With his performance, Randle becomes the first Knick to score 30 or more points in four consecutive games since Carmelo Anthony did so in 2014.
Julius Randle with 33 PTS, 5 REB, 10 AST, 5 STL today.- StatMuse (@statmuse) April 18, 2021
The first Knick with 4 straight 30-point games since Carmelo Anthony in 2014.
The first Knick with a 30p/10a/5s game since Nate Robinson in 2009.
The Knicks have won 6 in a row. pic.twitter.com/Sg24vJKBo5
Randle also continues to build chemistry with his No. 2, RJ Barrett, who has displayed plenty of growth in his sophomore campaign. Despite fouling out in this one, Barrett finished with 18 points, shooting 7-for-15 from the field and 2-for-4 from deep.
Barrett's first bucket of the game and final bucket of the first half were both assisted by Randle.
Seven seasons into his NBA career, Randle has yet to play on the postseason stage. Still, he recently remarked that at this point of the season, every game is like a playoff game; he's clearly treating them as such.
It's no secret that playoff basketball is different but as evidenced by Randle's 33 against the Pelicans and his 44 points against the Dallas Mavericks, Randle is ready to step up and be that No. 1 option when the intensity and physicality are kicked up a notch.
He's built for it.
After holding off a late run from the Mavs in their previous outing, the Knicks showed they have the ability to remain composed to stage - and complete - a late rally of their own.
With under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, New York trailed 99-92 before closing out on an 11-4 run to tie things up and force overtime, courtesy of a triple from Reggie Bullock. On Bullock's 3, New York executed a play set up by Derrick Rose, who drove the lane, forcing Lonzo Ball to overhelp, leaving an open 39.7 3-point shooter in Bullock.
REGGIE BULLOCK IN THE CLUTCH pic.twitter.com/ryRF5UkKaE- NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 18, 2021
With momentum on its side, New York created separation in the extra period and never looked back.
It's important to note that the Knicks were able to execute down the stretch as they were without Alec Burks, who is in the league's health and safety protocols. This season, New York has relied on Burks to run the offence in late-game situations and the reserve guard will add another dynamic once he returns.
That they were able to get things done down the stretch without him shows the Knicks are adopting the next man up mentality in the best way possible.
In addition to Burks, New York's second unit features the aforementioned Rose, who finished with 23 points (on 9-for-17 shooting) and five assists, including the dime that led to Bullock's crucial triple.
Rose alone outscored the Pelicans second unit 23-22.
Taj Gibson also came off the bench to pull down a game-high 14 rebounds in a game where Steven Adams and Zion Williamson were both on the floor. As former Bulls teammates, both Gibson and Rose came within three wins of the NBA Finals.
10 years later, they're the veteran anchors of a second unit that features young players that have yet to experience postseason basketball in rookies Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin as well as former top 10 picks in Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina.
Rotations tighten in the postseason, meaning New York might go just three or four deep off the bench but it has the perfect bench leaders to ensure the young guys stay ready to perform.
Defence, Defence, Defence
The Knicks' resurgence this season has been fuelled by their performance on the defensive end of the floor.
New York held New Orleans, one of the league's weaker shooting teams, to 40.6 percent shooting from the field and 6-for-27 (22.2 percent) shooting from beyond the arc. The Knicks are owners of the league's third-rated defence, boasting a defensive rating of 107.5.
Since the team's win streak began on April 10, New York's defensive rating has been slightly better at 106.8 and the team has posted the third-highest net rating in the league at 9.1, behind only the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks.
Credit first goes to the defensive game planning of Tom Thibodeau and then to his players for executing the plan to a T. They play hard and, when mistakes come, they come at full speed. New York is an intense defensive team that works to make teams uncomfortable on offence.
And they have a pretty good rim protector in Nerlens Noel to clean things up, too.
NO NO NOEL pic.twitter.com/qBmlyus5g3- NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 18, 2021
It might be hard to be a consistently good shooting team or have a consistently potent offence but defensive effort and toughness are easy to be consistent at. The Knicks check that box.
As it stands, New York looks likely to fall with the range of seeds four to six in the East.
That being said, it increases the likelihood of the Knicks facing one of the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics or Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round of the postseason. Up to this point in the season, New York is 2-0 against Atlanta, 1-1 against Boston and won its season series with Milwaukee, 2-1.
While the Bucks are a team with title aspirations and is continuously improving, the Knicks have shown the ability to match up well with the Hawks and Celtics, as shown by their records against them this season.
The postseason is all about matchups and with a talented starting lineup that features Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Bullock, Randle and Noel, New York has the personnel to hang with some of its Eastern Conference counterparts.
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