The New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets are going in opposite directions.
But they’ll be together again for the final time this season when they meet Tuesday night in New York.
The Knicks are carrying a nine-game winning streak after Sunday night’s 131-129 double-overtime victory at Boston. It marked New York’s second conquest of the Celtics in a week.
“I think the biggest thing is we’re just having fun playing,” Knicks forward Julius Randle said. “Everybody is enjoying being out there and competing at a really high level. We’re building the right habits and getting better as a team and I think that’s keeping everything fresh.”
The Hornets have dropped three games in a row following a season-high five-game winning streak. Out of playoff contention and without their most dynamic player, it might be a struggle the rest of the way for Charlotte.
“For the most part, these guys have handled an incredible amount of bad luck and adversity all year,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We played really hard. Our effort and energy have been the best things that we’ve done. The energy and effort haven’t been an issue all year. It’s something you always worry about as a coach.”
The Knicks hold the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference and their push toward the playoffs appears to be in overdrive. While they don’t want to be derailed by the Hornets, there’s bound to be a need to replenish energy after a pair of two-point road victories across three nights — the first of those at Miami.
Immanuel Quickley’s career-best 38 points Sunday gave him team-high honors for the Knicks for only the third time this season.
But Randle remains the focal point for much of what the Knicks are doing. He’s averaging 32 points across the last six games.
“I’m getting a lot of lift on my shot,” Randle said. “My legs feel good.”
Quickley stepped up with Jalen Brunson (foot) out of the lineup.
The Hornets have been challenged offensively since last week’s season-ending ankle injury sustained by point guard LaMelo Ball.
Clifford has pointed to shortcomings in ball movement, particularly in Sunday’s 102-96 loss at the Brooklyn Nets.
“Obviously, we’re limited to a certain degree. We just weren’t patient enough,” Clifford said. “That ball (has) got to move more. We’re going to have to play to the second side of the floor offensively more than we were willing to do (against the Nets).”
Kelly Oubre Jr. has been Charlotte’s leading scorer for the past three games. He managed just 17 points at Brooklyn, failing to connect on any of his four 3-point shots.
Dennis Smith has continued to come off the bench in Ball’s absence, but he has been the only true point guard for the Hornets in many cases. It’s a period of adjustment even though Smith played a significant role earlier in the season when the Hornets were reduced in the backcourt by injuries.
“Our offensive energy wasn’t good,” Clifford said. “You don’t play well on offense if you don’t have good readiness either and that was the biggest part.”
Center Mark Williams had another double-double in the Brooklyn game, giving the rookie seven this season.
The Knicks beat the Hornets 134-131 in overtime Oct. 23 at home and then topped Charlotte 121-102 for a Dec. 9 road victory.
–Field Level Media