Two teams coming off what they hope will be momentum-gathering wins go head-to-head Friday night when the New York Knicks visit the Miami Heat.
The Knicks have gone 3-3 since turning over their coaching reins to Mike Miller, who has been fortunate enough to have a mostly healthy roster at his disposal.
The club’s depth was on full display when New York’s starters totaled 71 points and its reserves 72 in a 143-120 home win over Atlanta on Tuesday.
Backup Mitchell Robinson, who accounted for 22 of the points off the bench, noted after the victory that a players’ meeting and the coaching change have combined to give the 21-loss club new life.
“We were pretty much tired of the way the season was going,” Robinson told reporters about the reason for the meeting. “We just decided to make some changes and we did that energy-wise. And we came out and competed our (butts) off.”
The Knicks have won three of their last four games and three of five since beginning a stretch in which they will play 11 of 15 on the road.
Victories at Golden State and Sacramento on last week’s West Coast swing helped turn things in a positive direction, leading to Tuesday’s explosion, during which New York scored 19 more points than any previous game.
The Heat have won five of their last seven, including two of three on a just completed trip. The latter two wins came against heavyweights — Dallas and Philadelphia — with Wednesday’s attention-grabbing triumph giving the 76ers their first home loss of the season.
The meeting with the Sixers was highly anticipated for another of Jimmy Butler’s returns to Philadelphia. It turned into a revenge game for Miami center Bam Adebayo, who was outscored 23-12 and outrebounded 11-5 by Joel Embiid when the Heat got drubbed 113-86 in an earlier trip north.
This time, Adebayo outscored his rival 23-22, harassing Embiid into 8-for-19 shooting.
“You can see the growth of his game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said about Adebayo after the win. “Him being assertive and offensive-minded helps our offense.”
The Knicks and Heat will be meeting for the first time this season, and that means early Rookie of the Year contenders RJ Barrett and Kendrick Nunn finally will get a chance to duel.
Barrett has been a driving force in the Knicks’ resurgence, scoring 27 points Tuesday and 22 on Dec. 11 against the Warriors.
He now ranks second among NBA rookies in steals with 32, third in rebounds (144) and fourth in scoring (384) and assists (79) entering Thursday’s action.
Barrett still finds himself trailing Nunn in several categories, including scoring. Nunn leads all rookies with 462 points and 3-point makes (61) and is second in assists (101). Nunn also ranks just behind Barrett in steals with 29.
Nunn, a 24-year-old who went undrafted last season and played the whole year in the G League, had 26 points in the win at Philadelphia. He has scored 20 or more points nine times this season, with the Heat going 8-1 in those games.
–Field Level Media