The Knicks defeated the Pistons, 114-104, on Thursday night to enter the All-Star break on an 8-3 streak and a 19-18 winning record.
With chants of “Let’s Go Knicks” from the 2,000 available players at the Garden, they beat the worst Pistons in the Eastern Conference for the second time in four days, making sure to take advantage of what has been a soft schedule recently.
In fact, of his last eight wins, seven have been against clubs well below .500 (Washington, Houston, Atlanta, Minnesota, Sacramento and Detroit).
But after seven years of being the laughingstock of the league, the Knicks will embrace it. Whether they can continue like this when play resumes is another story.
The Knicks will open the second half of the season with a four-game road trip that will test their mettle, in Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Brooklyn and Philadelphia, and will not play at the Garden again until March 18 against Orlando. They are 11-7 at home.
The dizzying Garden even chanted “We Want Pinson” Thursday night, calling 12th man Theo Pinson.
The Knicks still didn’t have ex-Piston Derrick Rose (COVID-19 protocols) but that didn’t matter against the pitiful Pistons (10-27). All five Knicks starters had reached double figures by the end of the third quarter.
Julius Randle closed the first half of his brilliant season with 27 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. He will be in Atlanta on All-Star Sunday for his first appearance.
“We are growing as a team, growing as a unit,” Randle said. “We have to go to rest and be ready because the second half will be a beast.”
Randle’s partner, RJ Barrett, may come one day. He shot into the All-Star break with a night of 21 points and five assists in which he hit 9 of 13.
Point guard Elfrid Payton not only returned to action after missing four straight games with a hamstring strain, but he was also a starter. He picked up six quick points, showing no rust with his penetrating ability, setting the tone and finishing with 20 points in 35 minutes.
The Knicks closed the first half with panache. They went 18-4 to climb 15 points before a layup by Detroit’s Dennis Smith Jr. in the closing seconds made it 59-46 at halftime.
The run was sparked by Barrett, who fed center Nerlens Noel (12 points, 11 rebounds) for an alley-oop. Barrett then drove hard for a tomahawk jam. One possession later, Barrett took a long offensive rebound and dribbled for a layup.
Barrett scored 10 points at halftime, and Randle, selected for Team Durant in the All-Star Game earlier in the night, racked up a double-double at halftime (18-10).
Meanwhile, Frank Ntilikina, who started as point guard in the previous competition in San Antonio, continued his 3-point genius. After going 3-for-3 against the Spurs, he came off the bench in the first quarter and hit three in a row in four minutes to make it 6 of his last 6.
Noel, their starting center with an injured Mitchell Robinson, gave the Knicks a defensive spark in the first quarter with a monster block on Sekou Doumbouya. The Pistons were rocky from the 3-point line, going 5-for-20 in the first half.