This was the one they wanted. The others aren’t home cash; there isn’t a such factor any extra. But the Knicks wanted to begin this consequential six-game highway swing west exactly as they began it Sunday evening. The Houston Rockets are terrible, and their provide of lively gamers is skinny, and they’re enjoying out the string.
The Rockets wanted to be pounded.
The Knicks pounded the Rockets. They clubbed them 122-97, and even managed to present Julius Randle the entire fourth quarter off, which was a positive method to hold him considerably contemporary for the second leg of the journey, Monday, in Memphis.
Now the fun can really begin.
Now, the truth is, the Knicks can take into consideration getting grasping.
The Celtics misplaced to the Blazers Sunday; they’re now three video games behind the Knicks in the loss column. The Heat beat the Hornets; they’re two video games again in the loss column, similar as Atlanta. So now the Knicks can cross one sport off the calendar, they will flip to Memphis, and to Denver past that, and Phoenix, and L.A.
And begin serious about one thing else.
Most Knicks followers these previous few days, idling as they waited for the staff to play once more, agreed they’d join a 2-4 journey. You deal with enterprise in Houston, then see what occurs from there. They’ve already crushed Memphis, the sport that launched their nine-game win streak that’s now 11 wins in 12 video games. You by no means know when a star — a Nikola Jokic, a Kawhi Leonard, an Anthony Davis — will sit unexpectedly.
And not by the way: the Knicks have confirmed they’re ok to hold with all of the groups on this journey for 48 minutes. But in an effort to be practical about the broader ambitions of the journey the Knicks wanted to deal with enterprise at Toyota Center in Houston.
The Knicks took care of enterprise. Randle had 31 factors in half-hour. RJ Barrett crammed up the field rating: 21 factors, seven rebounds, 5 assists, two steals. Derrick Rose was plus-35 for his 31 minutes on the courtroom, Taj Gibson plus-36 for his 32. It was a pleasant breather, even when the coach wasn’t about to make use of such labels.
“I never felt like it was a laugher for us,” Tom Thibodeau mentioned. “You need to play for 48 minutes. You mess around with a team like that, they start making 3s on you, they can make up some ground.”
The Rockets had, the truth is, surprised the Bucks a number of nights again, helped by the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo. They don’t have anything to lose, can play free, might be free and straightforward, they usually did soar out to an early five-point lead.
But the Knicks are enjoying too effectively proper now, are driving too highly effective a wave. They haven’t misplaced a lure sport in weeks. They perceive what awaits them on this journey. They are a staff targeted on the enterprise at hand proper now.
“We’re fighting for something,” Rose mentioned. “We know that down the stretch we want to be playing our best basketball, giving our best effort and playing with urgency. It’s all about picking the other person up. We need to know it’s going to be a grinding game.”
The subsequent 5 are going to be that approach for certain. The subsequent 5 are the ones Knicks followers have been pointing to for weeks, for months, ever because it grew to become obvious that these video games had been truly going to matter for the Knicks. Maybe it felt like a contented accident at first, the approach this entire season felt for the first 45 video games or so.
But there may be nothing unintentional about the place the Knicks are actually: 36-28, already clinching a .500 document on the yr, already clinching a spot in the postseason event. Five months and a day earlier, when the Knicks first congregated for the season on the first of December, such objectives would have appeared laughable, if not downright delusional.
Five months and a day later, on the second of May, they felt like a prelude to one thing larger, one thing higher. In a number of weeks that may imply some number of postseason video games. Starting now it means a Memphis/Denver/Phoenix/Los Angeles gauntlet that may effectively decide how lengthy that second season lasts.
“We’re taking it as a challenge,” Rose mentioned. “We know everybody is playing for something. Every team, every game is going to be a rough game, like a playoff game.”
Starting Monday evening at Memphis’ FedExForum, for so long as the journey lasts, they are going to all really feel like playoff video games. And then be playoff video games. Now the fun can really begin.