The Knicks, who have clearly exceeded outside expectations this season, aren't settling for merely a trip to the playoffs.
The Knicks won 21 games last season after posting just 17 the previous year, a combined total of 38 they have a chance to match or surpass during their 2020-21 rebirth under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau.
They clearly have exceeded outside expectations as the No. 4 team in the Eastern Conference with 10 games remaining, despite their nine-game win streak ending with Monday’s tough loss to the Suns at the Garden.
While acknowledging the need for the Knicks (34-28) to get back into the win column in Wednesday’s homestand finale against the Bulls, RJ Barrett dismissed any suggestion that a “reasonable” goal before the season was simply to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“A reasonable goal for who? For us, it’s where we want to be. We want more,” Barrett declared after practice Tuesday. “I always expect more from myself. This wasn’t luck. This wasn’t anything but work.
“We worked hard for what we’re doing right now. We deserve everything. We’ve got 10 games to keep pushing and try to solidify what we want.”
The first two of the final 10 appear to be especially important with a daunting road trip looming, beginning with Wednesday’s home game against the Bulls (26-35). Thibodeau’s former team entered Tuesday’s NBA action in the 11th position in the East, one game behind surging Washington for the final spot in the league’s 7-10 play-in format for the postseason.
Even with Monday’s loss to the Suns, the Knicks have registered 21 wins at the Garden this season, the seventh-most home victories in the league. They also are 13-5 at MSG since a limited amount of fans were first allowed to return to the Garden on Feb. 23.
The Knicks then will get three days off before opening a six-game road trip Sunday in Houston against a free-falling Rockets squad that lugged a 4-36 record over its past 40 games into Tuesday’s game against Minnesota.
The rest of the trip features games against teams above .500 and in the top 10 in the West — the Grizzlies, Nuggets, Suns, Clippers and Lakers.
“We love winning at home. We’ve been protecting home court all year for the most part,” Barrett said. “Man, when the Garden fans start getting us going, it’s a great feeling.
“We have to take care of business at home, definitely get a win, so we start the road trip on a good note.”
Thibodeau similarly led Chicago to a 21-game improvement — from 41-41 to 62-20 — and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals during his first season there in 2010-11.
“I think each season is different. There are some similarities in terms of the characteristics of the team,” Thibodeau said Tuesday. “They’re a very hard-working type of team, high character. They love the process of working together as a group, so there are similarities there. I think you look back and you see some characteristics that are similar and some that are different.
“Obviously, the makeup of this team is a lot different than that one. In terms of the work ethic, that is similar, the teamwork is similar.”
Knicks veteran reserves Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson also played for Thibodeau with the Bulls that season, before rejoining him in Minnesota and New York.
Asked when he first saw the similarities between his debut head coaching season and now, Thibodeau added: “You see it by, each and every day, not so much things that are said but things that are being done. And the willingness to sacrifice and put the group first. … And then to sustain it over a long period of time. I think in some cases you may have a team that will start off that way but then it changes. This team has not changed. It’s been the same from the start of training camp to where we are today.”
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Peter Botte