Knicks forward Julius Randle reacts after scoring during the second...

Knicks forward Julius Randle reacts after scoring during the second half of an NBA game against the Hawks on Wednesday in Atlanta. Credit: AP/Hakim Wright Sr.

In the moments after the Knicks’ 122-101 victory over the Hawks in Atlanta on Wednesday night, RJ Barrett was asked about the mood of the team heading into the All-Star break.

“What do you think?” Barrett responded.

When the reporter told Barrett that it was more important to hear what he thinks, given that he plays for the team, Barrett said: “What do you think? How would you feel?”

“I would probably feel optimistic,” the reporter responded.  

“There you go,” Barrett said. “So that’s how we feel. But just knowing there’s still, what, 22 games left, anything can happen. So we’ve got to stay the course.”

Staying the course after the break would be pretty good for the Knicks. Winners of three in a row and eight of their last 12, the Knicks (33-27) sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of Miami and two games behind the fifth-place Nets.  

Slipping to No. 7 would earn the Knicks only a spot in the play-in tournament. Anything better than that means the Knicks would be a full participant in the playoffs.

Don’t misunderstand the exchange between Barrett and the reporter. It was not tense. Barrett was just messing with a familiar face.

Later on in the happy visiting locker room, Barrett draped his arm over the shoulder of a different reporter to listen in on (and comment on in real time) Jalen Brunson’s postgame remarks.

To paraphrase Barrett, why shouldn’t the Knicks feel happy right now? The trade deadline has passed and this is their team. The only injured regular is center Mitchell Robinson, and he should return from thumb surgery sometime after the break.

Plus, the Knicks are 3-0 since Josh Hart joined the team from Portland after a deadline-day deal. Hart already has brought defense and unselfishness -- not to mention 51 points in three games --  and has given the Knicks more depth, which can only help down the stretch and beyond.

“Finished strong before the break and now we get a little bit of rest,” said Julius Randle, who headed to Salt Lake City to play in Sunday’s All-Star Game. “Vibes are smooth, for sure.”

Even coach Tom Thibodeau has cracked a smile every now and then during the recent run.

Asked after Wednesday’s game if he was “pleased,” Thibodeau cut off the questioner and said, “No .  . . I always think we can do better.”

Randle was named on Thursday as a replacement for injured Portland guard Anfernee Simons in Saturday’s three-point shooting contest. Randle is shooting 33.8% on three-pointers this season. His career mark is 33.4%.

The Knicks also would like to see Brunson — who in his last 21 games is averaging 30.0 points and shooting 51.8% overall and 46.0% from three-point range — named to the Eastern Conference roster as an injury replacement. Boston’s Jaylen Brown hasn’t played since Feb. 8 because of a facial fracture. Also, Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan sat out Wednesday’s game with a hamstring strain.

But there was no announcement from the NBA as of Thursday evening about any changes to the roster.

The Knicks also will have Quentin Grimes playing in the Rising Stars game on Friday and Jericho Sims competing in the Slam Dunk contest on Saturday. The Knicks' next game is Feb. 24 at Washington.


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