At the time this article is being written by me, Jack Minello, the New York Knicks are the hottest team in the National Basketball Association. This is the first time in my 21 years of existing that I have been able to say such a thing. I have witnessed the Knicks perform on both sides of the spectrum, but I would be lying if I said the pendulum did not swing towards the less favorable side of said spectrum for the majority of my life. The last time the Knicks were this exciting, a lively Carmelo Anthony wore his signature orange headband and legendary point guard Jason Kidd was playing in what would be final season playing in the NBA.
The Knicks, who have won 9 straight games since losing to the Boston Celtics on April 7th, find themselves in sole possession of the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference standings. This is the highest the Knicks have found themselves amongst the ranks of the Eastern Conference since being the 2nd seed in the 2012-13 NBA playoffs. That was also the last time the Knicks won a playoff series, and they won it convincingly, walloping the Boston Celtics in six games before being devastated by the Paul George led Indiana Pacers in round two. The below picture of J.R. Smith is an accurate representation of all Knicks fans after accomplishing this feat. Now, in 2021, the Knicks are playoff bound once again, and if they playoffs were to begin tomorrow, they would face off against the Boston Celtics.
After beating the Memphis Grizzlies on April 9th in a gritty overtime match, the Knicks have not looked back since, pulverizing their opponents with an average victory margin of 10.2 points. Over the course of the season, All-star Julius Randle and second year sensation R.J. Barrett have solidified themselves as some of the most impactful and essential players not only on the Knicks but in the entire NBA. They both find themselves in the top three of total minutes played this season, with Julius leading the way in minutes played per game at 37.52 minutes per game. This sounds surprising, but not to anyone that understands Coach Thibodeau’s mentality when it comes to making rotational decisions.
When Thibs was hired as Head Coach of the Knicks, a lot of the attention he garnered was groans and eye rolls from casual fans and kind sentiment from Chicago Bulls fans who have a soft spot for Tom Thibodeau. I’d like to send my related regards to those Bulls fans who shared the same mindset as I did when he was hired. The additions of Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose has undoubtedly given the Knicks a new fanbase subset of glum Bulls fans watching their old favorite players contribute to winning basketball. All Coach Thibs has done is remind the entire NBA how defense is as important as ever, especially in a league driven by prolific shooters and high flyers. He holds players accountable, and always gives his team the best to chance to win every night. He has Knicks fans smitten, invigorating his players to play for each other, not for themselves, which is the true mentality of a New Yorker.
This could be perceived as an exaggeration, but after years of disappointment and Andrea Bargnani-esque trades, it is a privilege to watch this team lineup together every other night. New York IS the Mecca for basketball, and those who say otherwise are just overzealous Nets fans. The best part is that the Knicks have finally given themselves the opportunity to build their own expectations. The Knicks, according to The Ringer, were projected dead last in their preseason rankings. The sky is the limit, and the Knicks are just enjoying every moment of the ascent. Yet, they know that nothing is ever good enough. Everyone knows that the NBA Playoffs is a gauntlet, and clearing that mountain seems almost unimaginable. However, the heart and might of the Knicks have proven everyone wrong so far, and they have not given any team a reason to want to face them in this years playoffs.