Mike Miller, Julius Randle, LeBron James, Anthony Davis
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

After winning three consecutive games, the New York Knicks’ overall NBA strength will be tested on a road trip out west.

Josh Benjamin

The New York Knicks have won three straight and, for what seems like the first time in years, playing well.

Julius Randle is finally stepping up as the key free-agent signee management hoped he would be. Interim coach Mike Miller has opened up the offense and the players just seem generally more confident.

But now, the Knicks’ real test comes. A four-game west coast road trip is next, including a meeting with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. New York can also look forward to playing tough Jazz and Clippers teams.

In essence, the Knicks’ road trip is a friendly reminder that despite the first three-game winning streak of the season, the team is still just 10-24. The last three wins haven’t exactly been pretty.

For context, the Brooklyn Nets shot an abysmal 26.9% when New York beat them on Dec. 26. The Washington Wizards were without Bradley Beal on Dec. 28. In the Knicks’ 117-93 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, Damian Lillard shot just 5 of 20 from the field.

Short version: the Knicks haven’t exactly had tough competition as of late.

That all changes with this west coast trip, so let’s take a look at what to expect from each game.

Phoenix Suns, Jan. 3

The good news for the Knicks is that despite the tough competition ahead, they have a chance to establish momentum early in Phoenix. The Suns are 13-21 on the year and have lost nine of their last 11 games.

However, Phoenix also ranks sixth in the league in scoring with 114.1 points per game and has a deadly shooter in Devin Booker.

But the Suns are also limited defensively, and Booker has shot under 20% from long range in his last five games. So long as the Knicks keep up with their recent solid defense and pick their shots wisely, this game can be won.

Los Angeles Clippers, Jan. 5

Mark my words, fans. The New York Knicks can win this game.

Now, before you have me committed, hear me out. The Clippers are a tough and talented team. Reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and six-time All-Star Paul George are an excellent pair and Doc Rivers is a great coach.

However, for the Clippers, this is the second half of a back-to-back. We all know how committed Leonard is to load management, and he has yet to play in consecutive games this season. It’s also worth noting the pesky Patrick Beverley may miss this game with a sprained wrist, putting a big hole in the Clippers’ defense.

This means the Knicks, despite the Clippers being better on paper, are in a stronger position. Los Angeles has depth with Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams, but Leonard and Beverley have combined for a 5.9 defensive box plus/minus.

If the Knicks can capitalize, this could be quite the weekend upset.

Los Angeles Lakers, Jan. 7

Though the penultimate game of the road trip, this game is the final boss for the Knicks. The Staples Center might as well be Bowser’s Castle given the story going into this game.

This is because one of New York’s 17 wins last season was a major upset over the Lakers. In fact, LeBron James’ potential game-winning shot was blocked in the final seconds to seal the Knicks’ victory. Now, James has Anthony Davis by his side and the Lakers are 27-7, the top team in the Western Conference.

However, it should also be noted James has been playing through groin and elbow injuries for the past week. He seems to be fine, given his triple-double against the Suns on Wednesday, but he’s also 35 and injuries can be nagging.

That said, though the Knicks are probably losing this game, certain factors could keep it from being a complete blowout.

Utah Jazz, Jan. 8

Sorry, Knicks fans, but this could be an ugly game. The Jazz are the best three-point shooting team in the league and have a pair of strong shooters in Bojan Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell. Utah also just traded for Jordan Clarkson, and who can forget Joe Ingles?

The Knicks, meanwhile, are the third-worst team in the NBA in terms of three-point defense. Opposing teams shoot 38% from beyond the arc versus New York, and the Jazz have shot 38.9% from three as a team.

New York, meanwhile, ranks 23rd in three-point shooting and has shot just 34.8% as a unit. Barring a great showing on offense, don’t expect much from the Knicks in Salt Lake City.

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