RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Marcus Morris
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

A gutsy win over the Sacramento Kings gives the New York Knicks an opportunity to go for a three-game winning streak in Denver.

  • New York Knicks 103 (6-20)
  • Sacramento Kings 101 (11-14)
  • NBA, Final, Box Score
  • Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, CA

Winning two games in a row is a major step forward for the New York Knicks. For most teams, this is somewhat normal, but for the 6-20 Knicks, baby steps are still a step in the right direction.

It’s early in the season, but the Sacramento Kings appear to be legitimate contenders for one of the final spots in the Western Conference playoff picture. As it stands, the Kings are 0.5 games out of the eighth spot.

On Friday night, the Knicks showed plenty of fight under interim head coach Mike Miller. Offensively, Miller is tweaking a few things with slightly more pick-and-rolls and a changing of the (point) guard. Frank Ntilikina remains the starter, but Elfrid Payton is playing crunchtime minutes, and Dennis Smith Jr. appears to be falling out of the rotation entirely. Smith did not play against Sacramento.

Despite the offensive changes, the Knicks still struggled to score for long stretches. Much of the offensive punch came from Julius Randle (26 points, 10-for-18 shooting) and the bench (56 points combined). Miller’s squad dominated inside, outscoring the Kings 56-32 in the paint.

For all the (well-deserved) credit Miller is receiving for these two wins, the Knicks are still employing a similar defensive scheme to what David Fizdale was using: walling off the paint. This team was built from the inside out with a plethora of power forwards coming to New York via free agency.

In the first half, Sacramento’s Buddy Hield punished the Knicks with a barrage of three-pointers, but that’s where Miller’s ability as an in-game tactician came in handy. While the Knicks continued to use mostly drop coverage on pick-and-rolls, they made a concerted effort to run Hield off the three-point line. He finished the first half perfect on four attempts from deep, but he only hit two of nine attempts from beyond the arc in the second half.

Switching more experienced defenders like Frank Ntilikina and Elfrid Payton onto Hield played a big role in this change. Hield was burning RJ Barrett in the first half, but rather than let the rookie take his lumps, Miller put him in a more favorable matchup.

Some of the same foibles under Fizdale still exist under Miller. The Kings shot 17-for-39 (43.9%) from three-point range and the Knicks only converted on six of their 10 free throw attempts. Both of those areas have been harbingers of losses, but not on Friday.

They scratched and clawed their way back from a 16-point deficit and unlike the sloppy finish against the Golden State Warriors, the Knicks were calm, cool, and collected with the game on the line.

A Winning Streak?

Winning two in a row is nice and Miller is injecting some new life into these once hapless Knicks. However, in recent years, we’ve seen this franchise take one baby step forward followed by two giant steps backward.

The Denver Nuggets present an opportunity to avenge an embarrassing loss from Madison Square Garden not too long ago. The 37-point loss to the Nuggets was the final nail in Fizdale’s coffin.

Additionally, the Knicks can win three games in a row for the first time since Nov. 25, 2018. That’s over a year ago for anyone unfamiliar with the Gregorian calendar. Shutting down Nikola Jokic is at the top of every NBA coach’s gameplan although the Serbian center isn’t firing on all cylinders yet.

After Jokic, the Nuggets sport one of the deepest and most complete rosters in the NBA. If the Knicks are going to have any hope of stealing a win in the Mile High City, the bench is going to have to step up like they did against Sacramento.

Winning two games makes this road trip a success already. Winning three games would necessitate some type of ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes.

Four-Game Road Trip Log

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.