Here come the Suns, the hottest team in the NBA.
Building on their breakout run to the NBA Finals last season, the Suns will arrive at Madison Square Garden on Friday night riding a 14-game winning streak and with the league’s second-best record, at 15-3.
Veteran point guard Chris Paul, in his 17th season, leads the NBA in assists at 10.4 per game, including a dozen dimes, along with 17 points, in Phoenix’s win Wednesday at Cleveland.
“It’s just incredible,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said this week when asked about the 36-year-old Paul. “I think he’s always been a great player. His career speaks for itself. He went through a stretch where he had injuries, but the way he’s taking care of his body and he’s sort of just navigated that and he’s been healthy, I think you see what his leadership has done for that team. He’s brought the best out of them.”
Two-time All-Star Devin Booker, who netted 35 points on 14 of 21 shooting for the Suns in that 120-115 win over the Cavaliers, leads Phoenix at 23.1 points per game. Deandre Ayton, the No. 1-overall pick in 2018, is averaging a double-double, with 16.0 points and 11.8 rebounds per appearance.
“When you have veterans that have been through the wars, when you can couple that with a young star like a Booker, I think that’s very beneficial,” Thibodeau said. “You want your vets to help lead the way with the young guys.
“And it has to be someone that can still play and has the respect of everyone. I think [Paul] is the perfect guy for that. You look at how dynamic their backcourt is with those two. It’s why they have the record they do.”
Mitchell Robinson (concussion), Derrick Rose (ankle) and Taj Gibson (groin) all have been listed as questionable for the Knicks (10-8) after they missed the home win Tuesday over the Lakers, who played without LeBron James. Thibodeau’s team also will play Saturday night in Atlanta as part of a stretch of top opponents that will include the Nets, the Bulls and the Nuggets next week.
“You want to build a consistency in terms of how you prepare for each game, and know your opponent well, know what goes into winning,” Thibodeau said. “We have to go out and execute, you have to play for 48 minutes. … We’ve got to make sure that we go out there prepared and you have to do it as a team.”
Asked in what areas he believes the Knicks need to “tighten up” their game ahead of facing the Suns, Thibodeau said: “Every area to be honest with you. So it starts in transition and then the pick-and-roll game.”
Phoenix owns the league’s best record on the road at 7-1, while the Knicks only have won half of their 10 games at the Garden, including two losses to the team with the worst-overall record in the Eastern Conference, the Magic (4-15).
“You can’t overlook any of their players,” Thibodeau said of the Suns, who are coached by former Knick Monty Williams. “[Mikal] Bridges is a really good player, Ayton has played really well, the bench has played well. [Jae] Crowder’s a guy you can’t overlook. That team is really put together well. Their bench has been terrific. They’re getting a lot out of [JaVale] McGee? And they’re very well balanced.”