Now the winners of eight-straight, the New York Knicks are looking like a legitimate playoff team, with their league-leading defense to thank.
What’s even more impressive is that they’ve maintained the same efforts on defense without center Mitchell Robinson, who played just 31 games this season.
Credit seventh-year big Nerlens Noel, who’s averaging a career-high 2.2 blocks per game. He’s stepped up in a big way since Robinson went down, filling the starting role, and he’s thriving.
Per NBA.com’s Stats page, only four players are averaging more than two blocks per game. Among them, Noel is the only one averaging at least one steal.
As one of the game’s top shot blockers, playing for a top-NBA defense, Nerlens Noel has put the league on notice.
And he has no plans of stopping just yet.
Sending a Message
On an episode of The Putback, hosted by SNY’s Ian Begley, Nerlens Noel talked about this year’s New York Knicks, first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau, and of course, his strong 2020-2021 campaign.
Over the team’s eight-game winning streak, the big man is averaging 7.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks nightly.
Noel is tied with Jakob Poeltl of the San Antonio Spurs for the most blocks (20) in that span.
And it feels as if in each of those games Noel’s found a unsuspecting victim meet him at the rim and leave scoreless.
In New York’s fifth consecutive win, over former Knicks Kristaps Porzingis and the Dallas Mavericks, he swatted a fourth-quarter shot from Dorian Finney-Smith:
And in the very next game, he met Brandon Ingram at the rim and blocked his dunk attempt::
That play was crucial in New York’s overtime win, their sixth-straight.
On the block of Finney-Smith, Noel admitted to Begley he talked a little smack afterwards:
After the last one I told him, ‘Just start working on the floaters, because he ain’t gonna get all the way there.’ But that’s my good friend though so you know we good for that.
That might be helpful advice to all opposing scorers, not just the Mavericks’ wing.
New York Knicks Playoff Odds
After their latest win over the Atlanta Hawks, the New York Knicks are 33-27, and the Eastern Conference fourth-seed.
Their chances at making the playoffs have climbed to 84 percent, according to Five Thirty Eight’s forecast.
But the website is still giving the team a less than one percent shot at making and/or winning the 2021 NBA Finals.
That number could increase if they retain homecourt going into the postseason. New York’s got a half-game lead on the fifth-seed Hawks, and sixth-seed Miami Heat as of Friday night, as well as a four game lead over the eighth-seed Charlotte Hornets.
So it seems a playoff appearance is a near-lock for the Knicks, who’ve missed the cut in seven consecutive seasons.
But as far as what seed they ultimately place in, well that’s completely up in the air.
Tankathon.com has New York’s remaining schedule as the sixth-toughest in the entire NBA.
12 games to go.