Can the New York Knicks survive a brutal second half of the season?


Jean-Baptiste Bellet | Wikimedia Commons

Vasileios Michaelides

The New York Knicks have been one of, if not the biggest surprise of the season so far in the National Basketball Association. They find themselves sitting in a spot where not many thought they would be at back in the beginning of the season.

The Knicks entered March with a winning record for the first time in years since the “Knickstape” days with Carmelo Anthony, to be exact.

This turnaround has been nothing short of phenomenal. Everyone in the organization from the top with Knicks President Leon Rose, to first year head coach Tom Thibodeau, all the way down to the players like Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and Derrick Rose. They have all contributed to this change at Madison Square Garden. However, the question is whether the Knicks can keep this level of play up in the second half of the season.

The Knicks closed the first half of the season with a record of 19-18 after defeating the Detroit Pistons in their last game before the All-Star break. According to The Athletic, “for just the third time in the last 20 years, the New York Knicks (19-18) are over .500 after 35 games.”

Thanks to their strong and gritty playstyle and the defensive prowess coach Thibodeau instilled in them, the Knicks have been able to string together some victories.

Not only have the Knicks won the games they’re “supposed to,” against weaker teams like the Pistons and the Minnesota Timberwolves, they’ve also pulled off some quality wins against perennial playoff teams like Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks and Donovan Mitchell’s Utah Jazz.

Another major contributor to the Knicks success this season has been Julius Randle. Randle has gone from one of the most hated men in the Big Apple to being a fan favorite who has been deemed the locker room leader. His strong plays even earned him a spot in the All-Star for the first selection of his career.

Randle is, without a doubt, the man propelling these Knicks onward thanks to his improved decision making, his passing and his shot-making.

Julius has made the fading mid-range jumper from the side his own and has even become automatic with his back to the basket shot. Oh, and it’s almost impossible for defenders trying to defend him when he puts his head down and decides to barrel his way to the rack. But, Julius isn’t the only reason for the Knicks success.

The future of this franchise, RJ Barrett, has also taken a leap forward this season. Playing with a chip on his shoulder after being snubbed from both NBA AllRookie Teams last year, young Rowan Barrett Jr has come out and has shut many critics’ mouths.

He has improved as a playmaker, as seen through his kick outs when the defense collapses on him, as well as through his knack of finding open teammates like Nerlens Noel in the paint. But, his most important improvement has been his shooting.

RJ is shooting 35.8% from beyond the arc. That includes his abysmal stretch a month or so back when he missed over 20 triples in a row! He has hit the gym hard and it shows. As of lately Barrett has done very well from beyond the arc.

That being said, a team cannot rely solely on individual brilliance, most of the time. The whole team has to contribute in some way, and the Knicks are doing exactly that.

The newly appointed head coach in the offseason, Tom Thibodeau, a defensive specialist, has come in and made the Knicks a defensive juggernaut. Yes, that’s right — the Knicks are now a defensive juggernaut.

They are amongst the league’s best in defensive rating and rank first in defending the three-ball. They also allow the least points per game in the league at an impressive 105.3 ppg.

The rotations night in and night out are crisp.  The hustle is there every time during every play and is personified with hustle plays like we saw in their third game back from the All-Star break against the Brooklyn Nets when three Knicks surrounded Nets guard James Harden and forced a big turnover near the end of the game.

This Knicks’ defense is one of the main reasons for their successful season so far. It has to remain that way if they want to keep this pace up in the second half.             The Knicks can, most definitely, replicate their first half of the season success moving forward but a lot of NBA experts have their questions about the Knickerbockers.

The first half of the season has shown NBA fans that the Knicks are a good team with a real shot at a spot in the playoffs, but their schedule isn’t helping them.

The Knicks have a brutal schedule ahead that is riddled with amazing teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, the Los Angeles Lakers and teams of that company.

They’ve already started out the second half of the season by going 1-2, winning a much needed game against a Shai Gilegeous-Alexander-less OKC team, but then losing to Milwaukee and then Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. Even though they have lost 2 out of their last 3, positives can be taken from this.

The Knicks won the game against OKC, and they competed and nearly won a game against a supposed NBA title contender last night. The Knicks went toe-to-toe with the Nets in a game where they were down by 20 at some point and through their defensive stops and quick barrages on offense, thanks to players like RJ. However, their downfall, besides the refs of course, was their inability to hit the big shots down the stretch, which ultimately cost them the game.

If the Knicks compete like this night in and night out, there is no doubt that they can escape with some wins against the top teams in the league like the Lakers and Sixers.

Following the tough matchup against the Nets, at the time of writing, the Knickerbockers will face Ben Simmons and the Sixers and will then head home to the Garden to face off against the Wizards twice, the Sixers, and the Magic.

This is a very important stretch where they need to take the game against the Magic and at least split the games against Beal and the Wizards.

Following that stretch the Knicks will face teams like the Bucks (again), the Dallas Mavericks and the Lakers, which are all very tough matchups. They will also have to close the season on a brutal West coast road trip which includes the Memphis Grizzlies, the Phoenix Suns, the Denver Nuggets and both LA teams before they head back East to face the Charlotte Hornets and the Boston Celtics.

As we can see, the New York Knicks have their work cut out for them. As of right now, it’s been good, but the good news is that they are expecting players like Mitchell Robinson, who suffered a fractured hand injury, and Derrick Rose to return soon.

Rose will be a much needed scoring boost as he has been a positive impact ever since his acquisition from Detroit.

Mitch was also on track for a career year before his injury. His return will most definitely help the Knicks as his rim protection and rebounding ability provides immense help.

The tough games ahead will be a testament to the Knicks’ skills and defense, but most importantly, their character. They have shown so far this season that their grit can allow them to pull off some great wins, but grit can only take a team so far.

The X’s and O’s must be up to par and with coach Thibs at the helm that seems like it won’t be a problem.

As of writing this, the Knicks are sitting at the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference which is right where they will, most likely, be revolving around.

The best case scenario for the Knicks is that they crack the top six, and the worst is that they fall out of the top 10, but all signs are pointing towards the Knicks holding on to either the 7th or 8th seeds.

Hopefully the Knicks keep this up as our city and our fans deserve a bit of a winning season after all it’s been through. Come on New York!