Knicks’ road trip a chance to send message to Eastern Conference

RJ Barrett Knicks
New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) reacts in front of Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

While it’s still early in the season, the Knicks’ current five-game road trip which began Monday in Boston will be a great litmus test to see where the team currently stands and if they can send a message as serious contenders in the East.

Riding a three-game win streak heading into Monday night’s action against the Celtics, the Knickerbockers got over .500 for the first time this season after a 129-107 win on Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets.

This is a crucial road trip that can set the tone for the rest of the season. After Boston, New York travels to Atlanta on Wednesday where they take on a streaky Hawks team. Considering the Knicks have already bested the Hawks this year, this will be an important opportunity to snag a win on a grueling trip. Similar to last season, Atlanta has one of the most electrifying offenses in all of basketball with New York villain Trae Young and Dejounte Murray in the backcourt. Although similar to last season, the Achilles heel remains on the defensive side of the ball as the Hawks rank 18 in defensive rating. Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett had a field day in the first matchup of the year, combining for 57 points and 11 threes. 

After Atlanta, the Knickerbockers travel up the East Coast on Friday and Saturday for a back-to-back against the Washington Wizards and Hornets. While both sides are in the basement of the Eastern Conference, playing these teams on back-to-back nights is a good test for this young Knicks team. In order to be a serious contender in the East, they must win these kinds of games against inferior opponents. 

The Knicks match up with the Wizards for the first of three meetings Friday night. Washington currently has the 26th-ranked defense in the NBA but is sixth in the league in points per game. For a Tom Thibodeau team that prides itself on defense, it would be inexcusable for the Knicks to lose, especially on the first night of a back-to-back.

Expectations can certainly shift on Saturday in Charlotte, however, matching up against the worst defense in the NBA should give the Knicks the boost they need to sweep the back-to-back. After beating the Hornets by more than 20 at home, New York needs to execute and take care of business against an inferior opponent.

The real test for the Knickerbockers will come at the end of their road trip next Monday when they square off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Other than the Houston Rockets, no other team has taken the leap the Timberwolves have to begin the season. Minnesota is the top defensive team in the league and has found the formula to work with Rudy Gobert, Anthony Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Karl-Anthony Towns. Not only will this be a physically grueling matchup, but a mental test playing their sixth game in nine days.

Needless to say, this early stretch of games is a tremendous opportunity for the Knicks to take care of business. Anything less than a 3-2 record on this road trip would be disappointing for a team that considers itself a top-tier contender in the East. It’s time for the Knicks to set the tone and meet expectations.

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