As owners of the longest postseason drought in the Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks could be excused for thinking it’s a big deal to occupy a share of a playoff spot one-third of the way through the regular season.
But coach Tom Thibodeau will have none of that.
The Knicks will look to continue their climb up the standings Sunday afternoon, when they are scheduled to host the Miami Heat in a matchup of longtime rivals.
It will be the second straight home matinee for the Knicks, who beat the Portland Trail Blazers 110-99 on Saturday afternoon. The Heat earned a 122-95 win over the visiting Washington Wizards on Friday night.
The win Saturday improved the Knicks to 11-13 and ensured they’d end the evening among the Eastern Conference’s top eight teams, No. 7 to be exact. New York, which hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2013, needed 40 games to record 11 wins last season and didn’t get to 11 wins until the 58th game in 2018-19.
The demanding Thibodeau is in no mood to celebrate, though — likely because he knows how thin the margin of error is for the youthful Knicks. In a 14-game span from Jan. 2-26, New York had a three-game winning streak, a five-game losing streak, a three-game winning streak followed by a three-game losing streak.
“I don’t want us to feel too good about where we are, because right now there’s a long way to go,” Thibodeau said Saturday afternoon. “I want us to feel good about the way we’re approaching things. I know if we practice well and we concentrate on our improvement and get ready for our next opponent, then we’ll have a good chance to win.”
The Heat are also in an unfamiliar position.
Miami, which won three NBA championships and lost in the Finals twice from 2006-13 and made a surprise run to the NBA Finals in the bubble last summer, entered Saturday with an 8-14 record, better than only the Wizards and Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference.
The Heat, who have won back-to-back games just once this season, are hoping Friday’s resounding win will serve as a much-needed spark. Miami scored 71 points in the first half, led by as many as 37 points, and limited Wizards star Bradley Beal, who had scored at least 25 points in each of his first 17 games this season, to seven points.
Like Thibodeau, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is hoping his team concentrates on the small details instead of getting consumed by the bigger picture.
“For us, it’s more about continuing to try to build our habits (and) just forge ahead,” Spoelstra said Friday night. “We just have to forge ahead, one day at a time. We have made improvement.”
The Heat will take the court Sunday without point guard Goran Dragic, who was ruled out Saturday with a sprained left ankle suffered in the third quarter Friday night.
–Field Level Media