Despite an impressive late season surge, the math is against the Knicks in their hopes of salvaging what has been a regression from last season. Heading into their game last night at Madison Square Garden versus the Eastern Conference’s No. 9 seed Charlotte Hornets and their sensational 20-year-old, second-year point guard LaMelo Ball, the Knicks were 34-42, had won four games in a row for the first time this season, and were 9-4 over their previous 13 games.
Yet after a 41-31 record last season and the No. 4 seed in the East entering the playoffs, the Knicks, the No. 11 seed in the conference before facing the Hornets, won’t even make the Play-In Tournament. The four Play-In spots are reserved for the No. 7 to No. 10 seeds. The Knicks were trailing the No. 10 seed Atlanta Hawks by 4.5 games when the NBA’s schedule began yesterday and would have to be the recipients of a divine miracle to catch the Hawks.
They will host the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Garden on Saturday, play the Magic in Orlando on Sunday, meet up with the Brooklyn Nets at MSG next Wednesday, will be in Washington on April 8 to challenge the Wizards, and conclude the season April 10 at home against the Toronto Raptors. The Knicks’ recent upward trend is a testament to their resilience and professional pride. They have not hung their collective heads in despondence or put forth excuses for not meeting their own expectations.
“We’re just playing hard,” said center Mitchell Robinson after the Knicks’ 109-104 victory at home over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night. “We want to see what we can make out of the rest of the season, so we just want to make something happen.”
The 23-year-old Robinson, the 36th overall pick by the Knicks in the 2018 draft, will be an unrestricted free-agent this summer and the target of several teams. In 69 games this season before last night’s matchup with Charlotte, he was averaging 8.5 points on 76.3% shooting, 8.6 rebounds and fourth in the NBA in blocks at 1.8 blocks.
Several other young Knicks have been significant contributors in their positive stretch of games, notably guard Immanuel Quickley and forward Obi Toppin. Quickley has shown marked improvement running the offense and while rediscovering his shooting touch that was inconsistent the first half of the season. Overall the 25-year-old 2020 first round pick (No. 25) is averaging 10.6 points and 3.2 assists.
Toppin, taken No. 8 in the first round by the Knicks in 2020, has not made the major strides many predicted he would a year later. However, he is finishing strong and showing promise. In the prior nine games he has played leading into last night, Toppin was averaging 11.3 points on 60% percent shooting and 38% percent on 3-point attempts in 19 minutes of playing time. He has also demonstrated impactful activity on the defensive end of the floor.