This is exactly what Knicks fans signed up for — and this will be exactly the point where we find out if this team is for real or not.
The Knicks won their 10th game in 11 outings on Wednesday night, stomping the Bulls in the fourth quarter to cruise to a 113-94 victory in what was a much-needed bounceback following a loss to the Phoenix Suns, which ended their nine-game win streak.
After an Atlanta Hawks loss, the Knicks were able to build a full-game advantage for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, a place that has exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations from the start of the season.
With nine games remaining, though, the Knicks are about to embark on what will be their stiffest test of the season: a six-game road trip that takes them out west against some of the very best of the opposing conference.
They’ll be able to ease into the trip in Houston where they meet the last-place Rockets on Sunday, but it gets exponentially tougher from there.
The eighth-place Grizzlies and star guard Ja Morant is followed by four games against the teams currently placed 2-5 in the Western Conference — the Nuggets (fourth), Suns (second), Clippers (third), and Lakers (fifth).
A daunting slate, certainly, but it’s doing little to move the meter of Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau.
“For us, nothing changes,” he said. “When you begin the season, you think about all the things you have to prepare yourself for. You don’t want to look ahead, you don’t want to look behind. The only thing we’re thinking about is Houston.
“We’ll take it step-by-step, get ready to play, and when the ball goes up, you have to find a way to win. It’s really that simple.
“Don’t get lost in looking at it’s the end of the season or there are how many games left or how long the road trip is. For us, it’s okay, let’s get in and get our work done and be ready for Houston when the ball goes up.”
That mindset has only permeated down to his players.
“This trip, we just need to focus on one game at a time,” RJ Barrett said. “It’s what we’ve been doing and we’ve had success doing that.”
Getting through this trip at .500 won’t be seen as much of a moral victory, either, even if it might be good enough to keep the Knicks at their current perch in the East.
For star forward Julius Randle, there’s no satisfaction of defying the expectations to just this point.
“I think we can get better and continue to be a lot better,” he said. “It’s just the detail of certain things that we miss at times. But we’ll get better at it. I’m excited for what this team can be and how much we can improve. Now we just have to lock in moving forward.”