Back in December, ahead of the start of the season, Las Vegas oddsmakers set the New York Knicks’ win total projection at just 22.5 wins. That was tied for the third-lowest total in the entire league, and better than only the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now, five months later, the Knicks have not only flown past those projections, they have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. After a 96-92 win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday, the Knicks finished their regular season campaign with a 41-31 record and clinched the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
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Regardless of what happens in the postseason, this has already been the best Knicks campaign in nearly a decade. It’s their first winning season since 2013, which was also the last time they had made the playoffs. That year, they finished No. 2 in the East and made it to the second round before being eliminated by the Indiana Pacers in six games. Coincidentally, their Game 5 win in that series — the last time they won a playoff game — happened on May 16, exactly eight years ago.
The main impetus for their turnaround has been Julius Randle, who is putting up career highs across the board. He’s turned into a knockdown 3-point shooter (41.1 percent), improved his playmaking and has almost singlehandedly carried their offense. In March he went to his first All-Star Game, and later this year he should add Most Improved Player and an All-NBA appearance to his list of accolades.
Under new head coach Tom Thibodeau, they’ve also been buoyed by an elite defense. The Knicks’ 107.9 defensive rating ranks fourth in the league, which is a massive improvement from last season, when they finished 23rd in defense. Meanwhile, they’re also first in both opponent field goal percentage (44.0) and opponent 3-point percentage (33.8).