The Knicks entered Tuesday with the NBA’s longest winning streak, but Charles Barkley remains a skeptic.
“Whoopty doo,” Barkley said on the TNT pregame show before alluding to the Brooklyn Nets. “They’re not even the best team in their city.”
Barkley was following up on similar pessimism from fellow TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal, who predicted an early exit if the Knicks make the playoffs.
“I don’t think they can get out of one round,” O’Neal said.
The Knicks won seven straight before their MSG showdown Tuesday against the Warriors, a stretch that pushed them to sixth in the Eastern Conference.
The success carried similar vibes to New York’s surge to the fourth seed in the 2020-21 season, when Julius Randle carried the offense and Tom Thibodeau’s defense was among the league’s best.
But that style didn’t translate to the playoffs in 2021. The Knicks were dropped in five games by the Atlanta Hawks, as Randle struggled to combat the swarming defense.
“Julius Randle is a better finisher than starter,” Barkley said. “Cause [the opponent’s defense] could just wall up. That’s what happened to him in the playoffs. Him trying to make every play, the team walled up, and he couldn’t score.”
Have the defending champs lost their edge?
The Warriors entered their annual MSG game on Tuesday under-.500 and 5 ½-point underdogs against the surging Knicks — odds that can be explained by three things:
1. The Warriors have been terrible on the road at 3-14 entering Tuesday.
2. Stephen Curry is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
3. Golden State’s once stalwart defense became leaky and uninspiring.
On the last reason, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said a drop-off in defensive intensity was “natural” since redemption was no longer a motivating factor.
“Last year we came in and we hadn’t made the playoffs in two years. We couldn’t wait to show everybody we were still here. We started out 18-2, No. 1 defense in the league. You win the championship and there’s just a natural human nature drop-off,” Kerr said. “You’re just not on edge. Combine that with other factors — injuries and stuff — it’s just we haven’t gotten there yet.”
The Warriors entered Wednesday ranked 20th in defensive efficiency, a big drop-off from their No. 2 rating last season. Still, Kerr hasn’t lost faith that his squad can recapture its championship defense.
“We’ve been much better over the last month. I think we’re top-10 in defense over the last month. Last year we were second,” Kerr said. “It’s a different team. Personnel is different. So we have to adapt to that. And we’re a year older and all that. But I think when we’re healthy and focused and locked in, we can be an excellent defensive team.”
On the flip side, the Knicks had climbed up to 10th in defensive rating.
“They’re defending really well. And they’re getting stops,” Kerr said. “And it seems like they’re shooting better. [Julius] Randle and [RJ] Barrett are shooting the ball a lot better than the first time we saw them a month or so ago. So they’re in a good place on a good run.”
OBI STILL NOT ON THE COURT
Obi Toppin, who sustained a fracture in his leg on Dec. 2, doesn’t seem close to returning.
Thibodeau said the power forward is working out in the pool and hasn’t progressed to on-court work yet.
“He’s feeling a little better. That’s a good sign,” Thibodeau said. “Let him work through it and when he’s ready to go he’s ready to go.”