RJ Barrett Knicks
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks look like a brand new team after two big wins this week.

On Monday morning, I called out the New York Knicks for being in a mental funk and not enjoying basketball anymore.

Two wins later, I’m wondering two things. Does the team read yours truly’s work, or did they also just watch Ted Lasso and reached the same conclusion?

Jokes and TV comedies aside, there’s a new life in the New York Knicks. Instead of sleepwalking through games, there’s actual pace and momentum with a purpose. Players are remembering just how good they are and playing with renewed intensity. It’s as though the energy that propelled the Knicks to a playoff spot last year has returned, and Derrick Rose isn’t even playing.

And as our own Danny Small has covered, the Knicks have a unique opportunity over this next stretch of games. Only two opponents in their next nine games are currently over .500.

If this energy keeps up for New York, then maybe the slow start will be forgotten.


RJ Barrett is in Mamba Mode

Shifting gears, how about RJ Barrett against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday? He’s been in a bit of a third-year-funk this season and was trying to find his legs after spending time in the health and safety protocols. Entering Thursday’s home tilt against the Boston Celtics, he was averaging 15.7 points and shooting just 41% from the field and under 33% from three.

Cut to 32 points on 12 of 20 shooting against Indiana, and Barrett was in a different mode. The 21-year-old channeled his inner Kobe Bryant and not only attacked the rim, but battered it. Granted, the Pacers were a little shorthanded, but still had elite center Myles Turner guarding the paint. And yet, Barrett feasted.

Barrett also didn’t let having a bad game against Boston stop him on Thursday. He was still on the court for crucial fourth-quarter minutes and made a clutch basket and free throw before sinking the game-winner.

This is the RJ Barrett we need to see the rest of the season. Forget how pretty the percentages are. Just go out and play the game.


Julius Randle Revival Tour?

The same goes for Julius Randle, whose critics haven’t been quiet at all. The reigning Most Improved Player who, if we’re being honest, should have also been an MVP candidate isn’t as dominant as he was last season. His percentages are down across the board, and he’s struggled to get himself in a rhythm.

Not this week. Randle turned in 30 points against the Pacers and flashed exactly what turned so many heads last year. He sunk threes. He was aggressive in the post. Even better, Randle wasn’t afraid to shoot in the midrange. He had an extra bounce in his step and helped the Knicks pull away in the second half.

And against Boston, it was clear Randle was having fun on the court again. He dominated the post, played his game, and was just aggressive when he needed. Randle was especially assertive in the paint, even barking some trash talk after making shots and drawing a foul. He finished with 22 points on 8 of 20 shooting and only made 2 of 8 three-point attempts.

It didn’t matter. He was enjoying himself and that energy spread to his teammates, including Evan Fournier’s career-best 41 point night.


Final thoughts

This is what New York Knicks basketball is all about, playing hard and controlling the energy of the game. Thus, after such an up-and-down season, are these Knicks ready to turn things around?

Two games are, sadly, too small a sample to tell. But if the New York Knicks can play like this every game for the rest of the season? Well, let’s just say Madison Square Garden hasn’t had that level of excitement in decades.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.