Don’t look now, but the Knicks are heating up once again with the playoffs just over a month away.
And they’re still dealing as distant long shots in the NBA title market.
New York continued its dominant run as of late with Wednesday’s resounding 142-118 win over the crosstown rival Nets – extending the Knicks’ win streak to seven games, trailing only the Bucks (16 games) for the longest active win streak in the NBA.
It’s the second time we’ve seen such a run from this team in the last three months, but oddsmakers still aren’t buying a resurgence in the Big Apple.
That begs the question: is New York worth betting as an NBA title long shot?
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On paper, it makes sense why the Knicks are so far down the board given the superstar talent on just about every team ahead of them.
Still, they’ve looked the part of a potential title contender with their play over the last month.
Since the start of February, New York has boasted the NBA’s second-best net rating (+9.7) with a 10-2 record outright, and it’s outscored teams by 112 points with a league-best 16.6 net rating over this seven-game heater.
Five of the Knicks’ seven wins have come by double digits – including Monday’s 15-point win over the title favorite Celtics, tied for Boston’s fifth-worst loss of the entire season.
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Then came Wednesday’s 24-point beatdown against Brooklyn, which wasn’t even this team’s biggest win of the season.
That came in a 38-point blowout win over the Warriors on Dec. 20, which capped off the Knicks’ similarly dominant eight-game win streak earlier this year that had us wondering aloud whether this team was undervalued at that point, too.
Just how impressive is it to have two such streaks in the same season?
Over the last decade, only 11 other teams have posted multiple seven-game win streaks with a plus-110 point differential in the same season.
Three of those teams won it all; two reached the NBA Finals; and the other six averaged a better than 60-win pace with two trips to the conference finals.
Can New York actually win it all?
Still, there are reasons to be cautious with this group.
The Knicks (37-27) have lost over half of their games outside of those two win streaks, and both of those lengthy runs came against largely inferior competition.
A closer look at that list of 11 teams to pull off similar win streaks during the regular season reveals a common and discouraging theme: the teams that fell short of a Finals run often lacked one central star (2014 Hawks, 2020 Jazz) or were still one piece away from getting over the hump (2017 Rockets, 2019 Bucks), while the three teams that won it all – the Spurs (2013) and Warriors (2014, 2016) – were among the most talented teams in NBA history.
That’s obviously an issue for these Knicks, who feature just one All-Star in Julius Randle, unless you count 34-year-old Derrick Rose.
They also have zero top-15 players on the roster, which is essentially a prerequisite for winning a title in today’s NBA.
If the playoffs started today, New York would match up with fellow upstart Cleveland, which is built similarly but features a legitimate superstar in Donovan Mitchell (ouch) and a better collection of surrounding talent.
If the Knicks had managed to swing for the former Jazz guard this summer, we might be talking about them as sneaky 30/1 dark horses to make some noise this postseason and not as distant long shots.
Alas, New York finds itself as a mere afterthought in the NBA title market – good enough to make a run in the regular season but lacking the high-end talent to escape a likely first-round exit.
There’s no faulting anyone for sprinkling a few bucks at such a long-shot price, but it’ll take a miracle for the Knicks to convert their recent success into an elusive Larry O’Brien trophy.