Josh Hart has seen enough through three games with the Knicks to believe they will be a dangerous opponent for the rest of the regular season and, potentially, in the playoffs.
“I think we can be a really good team that can make a run,” Hart said one day before the Knicks kick off their final 22 games of the regular season Friday night in Washington. “I’m not gonna sit here and say that we can be the two-seed or whatever it is.
“But we’re a team who can make a run, who I think teams won’t want to play.”
The Knicks (33-27) will resume play out of the All-Star break in the No. 6 position in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Heat and two behind the fifth-place Nets, who dealt away superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving before the trade deadline earlier this month.
All-Star forward Julius Randle said there’s “absolutely another level we can get to” with the pre-deadline addition of Hart and the potential return Friday night of starting Mitchell Robinson (questionable) for the first time since Jan. 19 thumb surgery.
“I always think we can get better,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau added. “The one benefit of Mitch being out was the experience that Jericho [Sims] was able to get. And then I think Isaiah [Hartenstein] found a really good rhythm, and he’s playing at a very high level right now.
“And of course, getting Mitch back is a big plus for us. We know how important he is to the team and the things that he brings to our team. It’s an added element. I think Josh has given us a good jolt, and he’s helped in a lot of different ways. [Immanuel Quickley] has been terrific for a long stretch now. And the way Jalen [Brunson] is playing and Julius is playing, we’ve played off that extremely well.”
The Knicks won their final three games ahead of the break after acquiring Hart from the Trail Blazers on Feb. 8, with the two-way wing averaging 17.0 points per appearance.
“It’s a tough team that plays physical, plays tough,” Hart said of his new team. “We have a lot of guys out there that can make reads, that can play-make, that any given night, you have guys that can go for 30 [points], starters and guys coming off the bench.
“And guys that are selfless, I think that’s the biggest thing. So that combination of all those things is something that gives us confidence going into the second half of the season.”
Hart also offered his impressions of Robinson as an opponent and what he expects now that they are teammates.
“Freak athlete, does a great job in terms of protecting the paint, blocking shots, contesting shots … Not just blocking, but influencing shots at the rim,” Hart said. “He’s someone who’s pretty mobile for his size, athletic. So it’s someone that I’ll like playing with.
“Obviously, a good defender where I can pressure the ball, and if I get beat, I can rely on him to affect guys at the rim. And then on the other side, having a hard, athletic roller like that who can put pressure on the defense in pick-and-rolls and handoffs and those kind of things, is definitely someone that I’d like to play with…It’s something I’ll definitely take advantage of, knowing he has my back out there.”
Thibodeau added that he believes the appreciation for Robinson’s game at both ends of the court is spreading around the league.
“But I think the big thing is the appreciation by his teammates, his coaches, the organization, that’s the important thing,” Thibodeau said. “I always say it’s what we think and what we feel. I know there’s great appreciation.
“There’s a lot of things that he does that are not measured statistically. They’re measured by rim protection, multiple effort, pick-and-roll defense, running the floor, offensive rebounding, creating extra possessions for us. Those things help us win. His growth has been very, very good. It’s unfortunate that he got hurt when he did, but I thought that he was playing at a really high level prior to this injury.”