The New York Knicks, who are 7-0 since acquiring gritty reserve Josh Hart, are set to visit the Miami Heat on Friday night.
The Knicks will aim for their eighth straight win as they continue to rocket up the Eastern Conference standings.
“I like where we are in the season, in terms of we know intensity is different now, so we have to respond accordingly,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “This should bring out the best in us.”
It certainly did on Wednesday night, when the Knicks routed the Brooklyn Nets 142-118. Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson scored a game-high 39 points, including 30 in the first half.
Brunson was incredible on Wednesday, making 15 of 18 shots, including 5 of 6 3-point tries. He added six assists and five rebounds.
Hart, acquired from Portland before the NBA trade deadline, had four points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals off the bench against in New York. He’s averaged 12.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game in seven appearances for New York.
Hart, Brunson’s old teammate at Villanova, has helped complement the Knicks’ potent 1-2 punch of Brunson and power forward Julius Randle.
Randle, 28, is averaging team highs of 25.0 points and 10.5 rebounds, and both figures are on pace to become his career bests. Randle was named an NBA All-Star this season for the second time in three years.
Brunson, 26, is averaging 23.8 points and a team-high 6.2 assists, both on track to become career highs. Brunson is making 41.0 percent on 3-point attempts and 83.6 percent from the free-throw line.
As good as the duo has been, the Knicks have other standouts throughout their lineup, a list that includes shooting guards RJ Barrett and Quentin Grimes along with double-double threat Mitchell Robinson.
“We have a team full of gym rats,” Thibodeau said. “We have a team full of leaders.”
The Knicks were on home on Feb. 2 when they beat the Heat 106-104. Miami’s Tyler Herro missed a corner 3-pointer at the buzzer in the teams’ only meeting so far this season.
Miami has lost five of its past six games overall, including a disappointing 119-96 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Philadelphia won despite playing without All-Star center Joel Embiid.
Miami’s leading scorer, Jimmy Butler, left that game in the fourth quarter due to a sore right knee. Heat starting point guard Kyle Lowry has missed 10 straight games due to a knee injury.
The good news for Miami is the Heat’s 19-11 home record, including 8-2 in their 10 most recent contests in Miami.
New York, however, is 18-12 on the road, tying them with the Milwaukee Bucks for the second-best NBA record away from home.
Add it all up, and the pressure is mounting on the Heat, who will enter Friday in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, 3 1/2 games behind the fifth-place Knicks.
“This has felt like the playoffs for the past three weeks,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But as competitors, you have to love that.”
In the past two weeks, Miami has added two bigs from the buyout market — five-time All-Star Kevin Love and backup Cody Zeller.
Spoelstra has been particularly impressed with Love’s passing, including his outlet heaves to teammates streaking up the court.
“So much about this league is fit, and Kevin really fits us,” Spoelstra said. “He complements our starting group particularly.
“Once guys get used to him, they’re going to get easier baskets. Kevin will probably ignite (our pace) as much as anybody on our roster.”
–Field Level Media