Heading into the All-Star break the New York Knicks found themselves on a considerable hot streak as they won five of their last six outings, including three straight leading up to the festivities.
Now, with the illustrious weekend in the rearview, the league will pick right back up with their near-two months of remaining regular season action and, when it comes to Tom Thibodeau’s club, some of the folks at Bleacher Report seem to believe that their recent string of success will follow right on through during their final 22-game stretch run.
In a February 20 piece, writer Greg Swartz made seven “bold predictions” for the final weeks of the 2022-23 campaign and, regarding the Knicks, he believes that they will only continue to make moves up the conference standings before the start of the playoffs.
“While they currently sit at sixth overall in the East, don’t be surprised if the Knicks end the final stretch of the season with one of the best records in the league. Since Dec. 4, New York is fifth overall in offense (117.9 rating) and sixth in net rating (plus-4.7), with a defense that should only get better when starting center Mitchell Robinson returns from thumb surgery,” Swartz wrote. “With Julius Randle making the All-Star Game and Brunson playing like one himself, New York is now one of the deepest teams in the NBA by swapping Reddish (who was out of the rotation) for Hart. While the Knicks may not catch the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fourth seed (currently 4.5 games behind), New York should overtake the Brooklyn Nets to settle at No. 5 overall.”
Since the beginning of December, the Knicks have gone 23-15 whilst boasting the tenth-best defensive rating (113.4) and the fifth-best offensive rating (117.4) in the association.
With their efforts, they currently find themselves with sole ownership of the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, though, as Bleacher Report boldly predicts, they could wind up breezing their way into a top-five seed with an expected strong finish to the regular season.
Despite Swartz’s confidence in New York, however, their final few weeks of the campaign are slated to be quite challenging, as they’ll be squaring off against 13 teams with a record of .500 or better during their remaining 22 contests and will be on the road for more than half of this time.
New Wing a Major Piece for Knicks
Swartz’s prediction certainly emphasized how New York’s top options in Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson are going to be spearheading the charge during the club’s final push to the 2023 postseason, but he also made sure to highlight newly acquired wing Josh Hart’s impact on the team since arriving via trade back on February 8.
“Besides being a friend and former college teammate of starting point guard Jalen Brunson, Hart is an ideal player to plug into a playoff rotation with everything he brings to the table. Beyond being one of the best rebounding wings in the NBA, Hart is a talented scorer from all three levels and a capable playmaker. He improved the Portland Trail Blazers by 9.1 points per 100 possessions this season (91st percentile, per Cleaning the Glass),” Swartz wrote.
Since arriving in the Big Apple and suiting up for his first contest as a member of the Knicks on February 11, Hart has found himself posting sensational averages of 17.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 steals while converting on a whopping 64.3% of his long-range attempts.
Along with these statistics, New York has gone undefeated during this stretch with the 27-year-old also sporting a 4.5 defensive box plus-minus and an overall box plus-minus of 12.7, both team highs.
Hart Predicted to Help Knicks Advance
Since being acquired by the Knicks, Josh Hart has received ample praise from players of both past and present, with some like legendary point guard Magic Johnson showing considerable love to the franchise for their deal with Portland.
Perhaps one of the most endearing takes on the pre-deadline exchange came from former journeyman forward and 2016 NBA Champion Richard Jefferson, as he shared his opinions on the acquisition of Hart via social media the night of the deal.
“Josh Hart IMO is a piece that can help you get to the 2nd rd,” Richard Jefferson tweeted.
The Knicks have made the playoffs just seven times since the turn of the century and, throughout this span, have advanced to the second round only twice, with their last appearance in the semifinals coming back during the 2012-2013 campaign.