After back-to-back wins against the Cavaliers and Celtics, the Knicks look to push their winning streak to three against the Nets.

The New York Knicks (27-23) travel down to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York to face the Brooklyn Nets (29-19). New York is currently on a two-game winning streak with two impressive victories over Eastern Conference contenders, but the last time these two teams faced off, on November 9th, the Nets walked away with a 112-85 victory. Nets star forward Kevin Durant, dealing with a right knee issue, will not play.

Julius Randle said it best after the team’s overtime victory against the Boston Celtics – “We can beat any team in the league, we can lose to any team in the league.” With back-to-back victories over the Celtics and Cavaliers, that rings true. New York has been one of the more frustrating teams in the league with their hot and cold play, combined with their love of letting teams back in the fourth quarter to make games interesting. Despite all of that, the Knicks have looked like the best team outside of the Eastern Conference’s big five (Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Boston).

And the same vein, the Knicks have succeeded with Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson as their offensive fulcrums and a defensive system that allows the team to get the best out of Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley. Speaking of Quickley, the former Kentucky Wildcat has taken a step forward over the last 10 games – serving as the perfect combo guard weapon off the bench for Tom Thibodeau. There’s a legitimate argument for Quickley to get more minutes over the coming weeks, and even some thoughts about whether he should eat into both Grimes and RJ Barrett’s minutes alongside Jalen Brunson.

Still, there’s more to be done. New York has to get RJ Barrett to be a bit more consistent offensively, as the best version of the Knicks is one that has a Barrett who can take advantage of bent defenses. Also, the bench still needs help. Obi Toppin will help and could be the answer, but the trade deadline should offer one more jolt of offense needed, and then, the Knicks can take a proper step forward. New York has teetered with the final secured playoff spot (6th) and the first play-in spot (7th) and with one trade in their arsenal, the Knicks are on the verge of having a pretty solid season.

Show Me My Opponent

Across the bridge, the Brooklyn Nets are playing excellent basketball. Since the firing of Steve Nash, Jacque Vaughn has not only allowed his star players to handle and operate the offense but he’s turned their defense up as well. The Nets are in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and even with Durant out at the moment, they continue to remain competitive against some of the league’s best. Even with Boston as the conference’s best team, the Nets have shown us that they aren’t that far behind.

Kyrie Irving is an All-Star and his scoring has finally resulted in wins for Brooklyn, but the biggest improvement on the Nets is Nic Claxton. Claxton went from one of their many big-man options to a solidified starter and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Ben Simmons is a utility player, while TJ Warren has been serviceable as a scorer. Around that is a litany of shooters (Seth Curry, Royce O’Neale, Patty Mills, Joe Harris, Yuta Watanabe) that keeps the offense balanced. Add one of the best players in the league to that mix and you have a pretty intriguing team in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets are in a similar position to where they were last season – entering the playoffs with two stars and a bunch of role players who provide different skills. Where does that lead them? Only time will tell.

What to Watch

— Good RJ Barrett: a clutch three-point shot against Boston saved us from discussing a rather poor RJ Barrett game. Against Brooklyn, Barrett should be able to take advantage of their lackluster defense on the wing and get some easy looks at the rim. With Randle and Brunson absorbing most of the attention, Barrett should be able to have a good game.

— The center rotation: With Mitchell Robinson out for another few weeks, both Jericho Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein have been solid, with Sims standing out in particular against the Celtics. Claxton is an all-world defender, but he also shoots 74% from the field. Keeping him off the glass and making his few shot attempts a bit more difficult should be the goal.

— Deuce vs Kyrie: The Knicks should throw Grimes and Barrett on Kyrie, but I’m most intrigued at the few possessions Miles “Deuce” McBride will get against the former Duke Blue Devil. McBride has been a solid defender and this is another test to see how he fares against some of the league’s best.

Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m.