The New York Knicks look to extend their winning streak to 10 games with a home game against the Charlotte Hornets. 

The New York Knicks (39-27) host the Charlotte Hornets (20-46) at Madison Square Garden. New York looks to continue their ascension up the Eastern Conference standings, while the Hornets are collecting ping-pong balls for this summer’s draft lottery. The Knicks enter the game riding high with a nine-game winning streak and are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. The last time these two teams played each other, the Knicks came away victorious with a 121-102 victory on December 9th.

The vibes are at an all-time high for the Knicks, whizzing the ball around on both sides and a nine-man rotation that perfectly encapsulates Tom Thibodeau — a juggernaut offensively, led by two isolation scores, while the defensive side has good size, length and works hard to generate turnovers. The Knicks won against the Boston Celtics with Jalen Brunson on the sidelines thanks in part to Immanuel Quickley taking advantage of his minutes boost. Suddenly, the Knicks have a legitimate chance to not only host a playoff series but make legitimate noise in the playoffs.

So what do the Knicks need to tweak or fix leading into the playoffs? Getting RJ Barrett to play a bit cleaner. Despite playing well at the moment, Barrett does have moments where he clogs the offense up a bit with isolation possessions. When Julius Randle does it, it comes off the hand of a man who has made two all-star games, when Brunson does it, it comes off the hand of one of the best offensive players in the league. Barrett does it and it seemingly feels awkward. Whether it be playing him more in bench lineups or giving him more offense, Barrett has to clean that up for New York to hit on all cylinders.

Show Me My Opponent 

Hosting the Charlotte Hornets gives the Knicks a legitimate shot at 10 straight wins. Yes, Charlotte has, weirdly, won five of their last eight games but with LaMelo Ball on the sidelines for the remainder of the season, the Hornets lack that true talent to make the Knicks sweat in this one. Guys like Terry Rozier (21.3 points, 4.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds per game), and Kelly Oubre Jr (20.0 points, 5.4 rebounds) will score buckets, but the rest of the guys are largely role players and young players who can fit around them.

Charlotte’s second group is where the value is and the hope for better days. PJ Washington (15.4 points, 4.8 rebounds) is a solid player who can defend multiple positions and knock down a three every once in a while, while Gordon Hayward (14.6 points) remains an effective offensive player, even if his days as an All-Star are well in the rearview. The kids have been alright, with Dennis Smith Jr. remaining an effective defensive player, while Mark Williams has stolen the starting center position with Miles Plumlee traded. Keep an eye on Bryce McGowens for the long term, as the 6-foot-7 shooter has played solid minutes in the second half.

All in all, the Hornets have a solid group of youth with scoring veterans. With the fourth-worst record in the league today, the Hornets could desperately use another young player closer to the caliber of LaMelo Ball, someone to build around and usher in the new era of Charlotte basketball. The Hornets have several young players developing right now, and Victor Wembanyama is the grand prize, but even someone like Alabama’s Brandon Miller or Amen Thompson, could get this team headed in the right direction.

What to Watch

— Turn defense into offense: Since the arrival of Josh Hart via trade, the Knicks have been actively attacking opposing offenses and turning their misfortune into Knick baskets. With Charlotte being without Ball, taking advantage of their youth by forcing turnovers could not only generate a lead but extend that lead well into double digits.

— A thriving starting unit: This is one of the games where the starters for the Knicks should take over even if Brunson, who is listed as questionable, sits out again. Randle has a chance to thrive against a lowly Charlotte defense, thanks to his ability to shoot and score inside and out. Also, look for the guards of New York to put pressure on Charlotte’s guards, a rather young group, with their ability to attack the basket.

— Great RJ Barrett game: I’m excited for Barrett to attack Gordon Hayward and crew. He had a solid game against Boston and I want to see him keep it up. Continue to attack the opposing defenses and get to the rim, and more importantly, make moves with speed and not hold the ball up. This is a chance for Barrett to stack together two great games.

Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.

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