Knicks Showcasing A Total Team Effort

5 Thoughts on the Win:

1. In arguably the best alternate jersey in NBA history — seriously, how do you top honoring the FDNY with that kind of swag? — the Knicks won consecutive games for the first time in six weeks.

“It must be the jerseys,” Enes Kanter said after his second 20-20 game of the season. “We showed grit, we showed New York grit . . . It was an honor to wear this jersey.”

As Fernando once said, “When you look good, you feel good,” and the Knicks looked mahvelous back on The Garden court after a seven-game road trip. Sure, these wins were against two struggling teams in the Phoenix Suns and the Brooklyn Nets, but there should be no apologizing right now. The Knicks have been struggling, too, and they needed this.

The offense hummed once again and continues to climb the NBA rankings as one of the most efficient in the NBA. The Knicks shot 50% from three (13-for-26) and reached 111 points, which has been their average over the last 10 games. Believe it or not, the Knicks are 22-16 when they score over 100 points.

But this is exactly why I ripped the boxscore out of Al Trautwig’s hands at halftime on MSG. Forget the offense, that hasn’t been the issue. For the Knicks, it’s been about defense, intensity and extra effort. You saw all of that in this game, even after Kenny Atkinson’s feisty, injury-riddled Nets kept pushing back.

During the trip, the Knicks allowed three straight games of 128 points per game. These past two games, however, the opponent has not reached 100 points. The Knicks haven’t held an opponent under 100 points in consecutive games since October.

Oh and you should know that they are 11-1 when they do keep teams under 100.

Kristaps Porzingis (28 points) even used a Wallyism in the postgame when he talked about answering every Nets run with a run of their own until the third quarter, when it was time to “step on their throat.” You had to see the smile of Wally Szczerbiak‘s face during the postgame when we heard that.

2. Before we worry about the Celtics, at least one rival has been handled this season. The Knicks completed a season sweep over the Nets with the win.

It may not mean much, considering the rebuilding Nets are not ready to compete just yet, but historically it has been a while since the Knicks could claim that kind of supremacy over their city rivals. In fact, the last time the Knicks swept this season series, the Nets played in New Jersey, Kenny Atkinson was a Knicks assistant and this blog was still appearing on the website.

That would be 2010-11.

So I guess bragging rights stay with the Knicks, but don’t we really want to see a day where both franchises are battling for the Atlantic Division and the East? That’s a real rivalry.

3. Kanter seems to be getting back to being that catalyst at the start of games. That’s what made him such a revelation early in the season: his huge first quarter performances that helped establish a presence on the boards and also scoring in the paint.

Kanter had 10 points and 11 rebounds in the first half and finished with 20 points, 20 rebounds and 5 assists in 30:28. It was the second time this season he had at least 20 points and 20 rebounds — remember his 31 point, 22 rebound effort on Christmas Day — and it was also his third straight 20-point effort.

He is the first Knick to post a 20-20-5 game since David Lee in 2009-10 and was the fourth player in the NBA to do it this season, joining DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now, what do those three other players have in common?

Yes, they’re each all-stars this season.

So with Kanter’s performance this season, coupled with the injury to Kevin Love, could Kanter get consideration from commissioner Adam Silver as an All-Star replacement?

If he would be selected, he’d be on LeBron James’ team.

“I might ask for a trade,” Kanter joked.

Silver has other candidates to consider, including Heat guard Goran Dragic, but Kanter is at least in the conversation. I think Dragic would get the nod over Kanter for two reasons: the Heat are fourth in the East and do not have an all-star representative, and do you really give the Knicks, who are in 10th in the East, two all-stars?

4. So much for the idea that Frank Ntilikina may benefit from playing the G-League. Jeff Hornacek feels the 19-year-old would be better served staying with the big club and with Trey Burke in the mix, he can play Ntilikina off the ball to take pressure off him.

And what we’re seeing over the last few games is Burke and Ntilikina playing together in the backcourt, which allows the rookie to focus more on defense, which is his calling card. So far, the two have paired up over four games and played a total of 35 minutes together. The Knicks have scored 88 points with 21 assists on 35 field goals with just five turnovers and six steals.

Ntilikina looked comfortable again back home in The Garden. He also did something that will be very important if he’s going to play off the ball: knock down open shots. He hit 2-of-3 from downtown and also had five assists and a steal. Burke didn’t get to do much in 16:39, with just one field goal on four attempts and four assists.

Hornacek has really opened up the rotation lately. By halftime, 12-of the-13 players dressed saw action. Unfortunately, Ron Baker was in for less than a minute before he suffered a shoulder injury. There will be an MRI today to determine the extent of the injury.

5. So with a week to go before the NBA Trade Deadline, it’s very quiet on the Knicks front. I wouldn’t expect there to be much action. Fans always get excited around the deadline because rumors create scenarios that send the imagination into overdrive. But the reality is, right now, the Knicks are not in a place yet to be aggressive when it comes to roster moves.

Porzingis spoke earlier this week about how he hoped the team would be buyers at the deadline with an eye on adding pieces to help make a playoff push. That’s great, but at what expense? The days of trading away a first round pick are over and adding payroll would only be considered for a high end player who would advance the cause not just for this season but years to come.

Those guys aren’t available, at least not yet.

Patience is still the virtue, here.

So for Porzingis, look no further than this useless stat when it comes to help the Knicks need to make a push for the playoffs: the team is 15-13 when he scores at least 20 points.

As I type this, the Knicks (23-28) are five games back in the loss column to the 76ers for the final berth in the East. Obviously the teams to watch are the Wizards (28-22), who will be without John Wall until mid-March, at the earliest, and the Pistons (23-26), who just added Blake Griffin.

The Knicks can still control their destiny in some scenarios. They have two more games against Washington, but only one more against Detroit and have already lost two to the Pistons. As for Philly, there are still three more head-to-head matchups, including Feb. 12, just before the all-star break.

As Porzingis said, it is important for him to experience meaningful games and a playoff push late in the season. But what he needs to realize is, those meaningful games are happening right now.