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 in opposition to a few of the NBA’s brightest stars on a pivotal and daunting six-game, 10-day street journey that begins Sunday night time in Houston. They will 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 Conference.
And RJ Barrett can’t wait for it to start.
It’s one other probability for the shocking Knicks to show themselves and fortify their standing as a top-four workforce within the Eastern Conference, to keep away from having to sweat out the ultimate three regular-season video games on the Garden.
“We love big games. Who doesn’t want to play against the best of the best?” Barrett, the burgeoning second-year star, stated Saturday after observe. “It’s kind of what I grew up wanting to do. It’s going to be a great challenge for us. Just excited to get going.”
Facing this type of competitors is tough sufficient, however doing so on the street will be much more of a check. The Knicks are 13-17 on the street and personal simply 4 victories in 12 alternatives over groups with successful information away from the Garden. They have gotten fats at residence, 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.
The most essential recreation of the journey is arguably the primary one. The Rockets are 16-47, the lone workforce with a shedding document the Knicks will face on this upcoming stretch. In reality, Houston is the lone non-playoff contender left on the Knicks’ schedule.
“We got to go out there and get one at a time,” Barrett stated. “[Sunday] is definitely going to be a huge game.”
But the Rockets aren’t a pushover. They have 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 they characteristic dynamic younger Kevin Porter Jr., who turned the youngest participant in NBA historical past to publish 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 capturing 42.7 % from the sphere.
Most essential to the old-school Thibodeau, the Rockets are the following recreation. He abhors trying 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 just thinking about Houston, and that’s really what we’ve done well all season long,” Thibodeau stated. “We’ve had completely different stretches of the season the place you will have a bunch of video games like [this]. I believe the essential factor is to have a routine of the way you put together for every recreation, and don’t get away from it.
“Just know your opponent really well and get ready for that game. Don’t worry about the game after or game after that. … Just focus on exactly what’s in front of us, and hopefully we’re building those habits. We know how dangerous Houston is. They put a lot of points up on the board. We have to be ready to go.”
The Knicks are nicely conscious of how important this journey is and the way difficult these video games will be. This six-game stretch can set them as much as end within the high half of the Eastern Conference and keep away from the play-in spherical, or it could set them again and not less than partially erase all of the optimistic momentum they’ve created.
It might define their season.