The New York Knicks and Washington Wizards both overcame slow starts and headed into the All-Star break in the thick of pursuits for a playoff spot.
While the Knicks recovered enough to get into the top six of the Eastern Conference, the Wizards rebounded to land in the race for one of the four play-in spots.
The playoff push for both teams continues Friday night when the Knicks visit the Wizards.
New York headed into the break with 33 wins through its first 60 games. Since Dec. 3, the Knicks are 23-14 and entered the break in sixth place with a half-game lead on the Miami Heat.
“We’re excited to kind of get down (to) this last stretch of games,” New York guard Jalen Brunson told reporters. “I think we just gotta get back to being focused. We had a great break. Everyone looks rested.”
New York headed into the break with three straight wins over the Utah Jazz, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks by scoring at least 120 points in each game. It marked the second time this season the Knicks reached the 120-point plateau in three straight games.
New York’s strong finish before the break was fueled by Brunson, who is averaging 31.9 points in his past seven games.
Brunson scored 28 in New York’s final game before the break, a 122-101 win at Atlanta on Feb. 15.
New York will play its fourth game since adding Josh Hart in a trade from Portland at the deadline. Hart has scored 51 points in his first three games as a Knick while making 9 of 14 3-pointers.
The Knicks also could get back starting center Mitchell Robinson, who has missed 14 games due to an injured right thumb that required surgery. Robinson was hurt in the first quarter of a loss to Washington on Jan. 18 and has returned to full contact practice.
Washington’s early struggles were lengthier than the Knicks, but now the Wizards are trying to nudge their way out of a play-in race. The Wizards endured a 10-game skid Nov. 30-Dec. 18 to fall to 11-20, but since then they are 17-10.
Starting with its win in New York on Jan. 18, Washington is 10-4, jumping from 12th to ninth in the process. With 14 home games remaining, coach Wes Unseld Jr. is intrigued to see if his team can inch into the top six.
“We’ve talked about (making up ground) — certainly attainable,” Unseld said. “We have a home-heavy schedule coming out of the break. It’s a great opportunity. Very easily could be in a different situation. Four-, five-game swing, you’re in sixth. So it’s certainly feasible.”
The Wizards headed into the break by pulling off an impressive comeback. They overcame a 20-point deficit and scored 38 points in the fourth quarter during a 114-106 win over the host Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 16.
Bradley Beal tallied 13 of his season-high 35 points in the final four-plus minutes, scoring at least 30 for the third time in four games. Beal, who has missed 22 games this season, is averaging 27.2 points in his past five after missing two games due to a sore left foot.
–Field Level Media