LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Nikola Jokic and Ja Morant. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Devin Booker and Chris Paul.
The red-hot Knicks, winners of 10 of their final 11 video games, will play towards a few of the NBA’s brightest stars on a pivotal and daunting six-game, 10-day highway journey that begins Sunday evening in Houston. They’ll face previous MVP winners, candidates to win the award this 12 months and 4 of the highest 5 seeds — the Suns, Nuggets, Lakers and Clippers — within the Western Convention.
And RJ Barrett can’t watch for it to start.
It’s one other likelihood for the shocking Knicks to show themselves and fortify their standing as a top-four workforce within the Jap Convention, to keep away from having to sweat out the ultimate three regular-season video games on the Backyard.
“We love large video games. Who doesn’t wish to play towards one of the best of one of the best?” Barrett, the burgeoning second-year star, stated Saturday after follow. “It’s sort of what I grew up desirous to do. It’s going to be a fantastic problem for us. Simply excited to get going.”
Dealing with this type of competitors is tough sufficient, however doing so on the highway shall be much more of a take a look at. The Knicks are 13-17 on the highway and personal simply 4 victories in 12 alternatives over groups with successful data away from the Backyard. They’ve gotten fats at dwelling, the place Tom Thibodeau’s workforce has received 14 of its final 18 video games, to take over the fourth spot within the East, 1 ¹/₂ video games up on Hawks and Celtics getting into Saturday.
A very powerful recreation of the journey is arguably the primary one. The Rockets are 16-47, the lone workforce with a shedding file the Knicks will face on this upcoming stretch. The truth is, Houston is the lone non-playoff contender left on the Knicks’ schedule.
“We acquired to go on the market and get separately,” Barrett stated. “[Sunday] is certainly going to be an enormous recreation.”
However the Rockets aren’t a pushover. They’ve performed higher of late, going 2-2 of their final 4 video games. Of their earlier 5 defeats, three had been by single digits. And so they function dynamic younger Kevin Porter Jr., who grew to become the youngest participant in NBA historical past to submit a double-double of fifty factors and 10 assists when he led the Rockets to an upset of the Bucks on Thursday. Since becoming a member of Houston following the G-League season, the 20-year-old former USC star is averaging 16.7 factors and 6.4 assists whereas taking pictures 42.7 p.c from the sphere.
Most essential to the old-school Thibodeau, the Rockets are the following recreation. He abhors wanting forward. That’s what has made the Knicks profitable this 12 months” specializing in the second and never worrying about what comes subsequent.
“What we’re doing is simply occupied with Houston, and that’s actually what we’ve performed properly all season lengthy,” Thibodeau stated. “We’ve had completely different stretches of the season the place you’ve gotten a bunch of video games like [this]. I feel the essential factor is to have a routine of the way you put together for every recreation, and don’t get away from it.
“Simply know your opponent very well and prepare for that recreation. Don’t fear in regards to the recreation after or recreation after that. … Simply give attention to precisely what’s in entrance of us, and hopefully we’re constructing these habits. We all know how harmful Houston is. They put plenty of factors up on the board. We have now to be able to go.”
The Knicks are properly conscious of how crucial this journey is and the way difficult these video games shall be. This six-game stretch can set them as much as end within the high half of the Jap Convention and keep away from the play-in spherical, or it will possibly set them again and not less than partially erase all of the optimistic momentum they’ve created.
It may outline their season.