There are moments in every NBA contender’s story when they announce themselves to the rest
of the NBA.
The New York Knicks smashed into NBA contention in back-to-back games against two of the league’s most formidable teams in, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. The Miami game saw Knicks fans turn Miami-Dade Arena into Madison Square Garden South, as Knicks fans rained down MVP chants for both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle.
The next night the Knicks won a double-overtime game in Boston, despite 69 total points from
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. And they did this without Brunson, who sat with a sore foot.
The Knicks have the No. 5 seed, only a game back from the No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers, and on a nine-game winning streak.
Since Tom Thibodeau shortened the rotation to nine players in December, the Knicks have been the hottest team in the NBA and look dominant on both sides. It is time to view them as a possible Eastern Conference finalist and a dark horse contender for the NBA Finals. It’s also time to recognize Julius Randle (25.4 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 4.2 APG) as one of the new superstars in the league.
Also, super spark Immanuel Quickley starred in place of Brunson in the starting lineup, posting
38 points on 15-of-28 shooting, eight rebounds, seven assists, and four steals, showing he is one
of the best two-way guards in the league. How good is he? Immediately after the game, Vegas
changed their odds to vault Quickley as the odds-on favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year.
Dallas Mavericks in a freefall
If the Knicks were the feel-good story in the NBA over the weekend, the Dallas Mavericks were the
feel-bad storyline, as the usual great Luka Dončić choked on a point-blank lay-up to end the
game, and the Mavericks fell to the Phoenix Suns.
Kevin Durant was excellent, with 37 points on 12-17 shooting with seven rebounds. While Devin Booker almost ruined his stellar stat line: 36 points on 15-25 shooting with five rebounds and 10 assists with a soft tough guy act to end the game toward Dončić. The loss put the Mavs at 2-6 when Dončić and newly acquired backcourt mate Kyrie Irving played together. Mavs fans have already been irate over Jason Kidd’s coaching performance this season. And it’s only gotten worse since Irving arrived.
Ja Morant’s really bad weekend
Now that we’ve got the good and the bad out of the way, here’s the ugly: Ja Morant. The Memphis Grizzlies said on Saturday that the Grizzlies point guard would miss at least two games. But Morant’s absence from the team’s lineup could be extended if the NBA decides to suspend him.
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins provided little clarity when questioned about Morant’s return, indicating that there is no specific timeline and that the team is evaluating his status daily. The organization sat Morant after he posted an Instagram Live video in which he displayed a firearm at a Denver strip club. Morant has expressed regret for his actions in a statement. But Colorado police have said they have opened an investigation to determine if Morant might have broken any gun laws.
Other notes from around the NBA
- The Brooklyn Nets seem to be bouncing back nicely with their revamped roster, as they, like their New York neighbor, smacked the Celtics Friday by 10 points. Newly acquired Mikel Bridges, who came over from Phoenix in the Durant trade, continued to show his full bag, scoring 38 points and 10 rebounds, while fellow former Sun Cam Johnson scored 20 points and five rebounds. The Nets are 4-6 since trading Durant.
- The Oklahoma City Thunder continued their climb toward a playoff return (30-34) with a 10-point win over the flailing Utah Jazz. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander returned from injury and Health and Safety Protocols to drop 38 points and seven rebounds in the win. Jalen Williams continues to impress as a dark horse Rookie of the Year candidate with 32 points, five assists, and five rebounds in the win.
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- And elsewhere in the East, two titans clashed for conference supremacy, with the Philadelphia 76ers ending the Milwaukee Bucks 16-game winning streak, 133 -130. The 76ers trio of James Harden, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey combined for 95 points, 20 assists, and 18 rebounds. The 76ers are second in the league in isolation attempts, with Harden first in frequency and Embiid eighth. They will need both guys to stay hot to sustain a long playoff run come April. Harden and Embiid are tied for second in the NBA in isolation attempts per game at 6.3, showing just how antiquated head coach Doc Rivers is offensively.
Lee Escobedo covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @_leeescobedo