RJ Barrett continues to believe Knicks have something good going on
MIAMI — On the first day of training camp, RJ Barrett spoke about a lot of things, but where he ended was here: The Knicks were not the lottery-bound team that they were last season, and if you didn’t believe, he was convinced you would be wrong.
“Getting a taste of what the playoffs are like, falling short in that and to not end up where we wanted to last year,” he said that day, “I think we’re coming, even more experience, even more hungry, a lot of guys with something to prove, myself included, I have everything to prove. That’s my mindset and I definitely think we’re going to shock the world.”
Given the opportunity to gloat Friday morning as the Knicks prepared to take on the Miami Heat with a seven-game winning streak that had them at 37-27 and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, he instead focused on what has gotten them here — concerned only with the task immediately in front of them.
“We haven’t done anything,” Barrett said after the Knicks’ morning shootaround. “We have 18 games left. We’re really just worried about getting this win tonight.”
Those words would warm the heart of coach Tom Thibodeau, who focuses on the one-day-at-a-time approach. But that has been the buy-in from the entire team and a reasonable explanation of why Barrett’s words were prescient.
“We always have low expectations over here, I feel,” Barrett said, laughing. “No, just working hard is what it is. We always believe. I’ve always believed. I said it at the beginning of the year. Like I said before, just day by day, game by game, you can’t [get] comfortable, you can’t get content with what’s going on. We’ve got to continue to scratch out these wins.”
Jalen Brunson echoed that sentiment when asked about the playoffs, insisting, “We’ll talk about the playoffs after Game 82.”
It’s a reasonable approach, particularly with the Knicks facing a tough stretch of the schedule. Friday night’s game marked the first of three against Miami — two on the road — in this final stretch. The Knicks also will play in Boston on Sunday night. After a home game against Charlotte, they will head out for a four-game West Coast trip with the Kings, the Clippers, the Lakers and the Trail Blazers on the schedule.
But Thibodeau’s teams traditionally have improved as the season wears on, a point he made earlier this week.
“You want to improve every day and we talk about that at the beginning of the season,” he said. “This is why we work the way we do. This is why we study. This is why we study film. This is why we come in and put extra work in . . . I like where we are in the season in terms of we know the intensity is getting different now. So we have to respond accordingly. And this should bring the best out in us.”
If the Knicks are not the 37-win team they were last season, they also believe they aren’t the team they were two years ago, when they got the No. 4 seed only to lose in five games to the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. The difference is evident with the addition of Brunson and the arrival of Josh Hart. It’s not just talent, though. They’ve gotten experience that they believe will help them this season.
“I think just kind of knowing what it’s like, especially in the Garden, the whole atmosphere and stuff like that,” Barrett said. “I think it will help. But we’ve got to get there. We got to get there day by day, game by game. There’s 18 left and everybody is fighting for something — fighting to get in the playoffs, fighting for positioning. So we’ve really got to take it one game at a time.”
So if your prediction was wrong, Barrett isn’t concerned.
“We’re not worried about people,” he said of those opinions. “Nah, we really don’t care, honestly. We have like a close, really close-knit group. The guys in the locker room just, everybody working, trying to be the best version of themselves, to put that together with the team, that’s really what we care about.”