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Alec Burks close shot home whites

Alec Burks close shot home whites

If New York beats Dallas on Friday, the Knicks will have their first five-game winning streak since 2013-14, when Mike Woodson’s club was trying to make a late push to the playoffs.

After Wednesday’s win over the Pelicans, New York is well positioned to at least make the NBA’s play-in tournament. They are seven games up on 11th place Toronto with 16 games to play.

So Tom Thibodeau’s group should, at the very least, have a chance to earn a playoff spot at the end of the regular season.

There are fans who probably would prefer that the Knicks were battling for ping pong balls at this point in the season, fans who’d rather see Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox in the rotation ahead of veterans like Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock and Alec Burks.

But Thibodeau was never going to give young players minutes if he didn’t think they gave the Knicks the best chance to win. That’s not in his DNA. If the Knicks wanted to tank ahead of a deep 2021 NBA Draft, they shouldn’t have hired Thibodeau, because he was always going to play veterans ahead of young players if he felt the vets gave the Knicks the best chance to win.

Of course, you can agree or disagree with that approach to team building.

When we look back at this season a few years from now, it will be an interesting test case for fans who want the Knicks to tank.

Would RJ Barrett have improved as much as he has if the Knicks were getting blown out regularly? Would Immanuel Quickley be further along if the Knicks had put him in the starting lineup but ended up 18 games under .500? What about Knox and Ntilikina?

It’s impossible to know.

But Barrett certainly sees value in the Knick veterans.

“I’m kind of like a sponge everyday – getting a chance to grow, make mistakes, keep learning. So it’s great to have vets, they always pick you up,” Barrett said last week when asked about the veterans on the roster. “After I had that after I had that turnover in the game against Boston (last week), there was a timeout; (I) went to the bench and the whole team, everybody, picked me up. Taj (Gibson), was like, ‘It’s alright, you’re going to get it back. Watch.’ And then the next play, I made a shot to tie the game. So it’s great to have vets like that around.”

ZION PRAISES RANDLE

Julius Randle matched up on Zion Williamson during stretches of Wednesday’s game. Randle finished with 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the win.

“I got a lot of respect for Julius,” Williamson said afterward. “He has improved his game each year he’s been in the league, I’ve got nothing but respect for players like that. Great dude as well.”

NOEL LIKELY BACK FRIDAY; THIBS IMPRESSED BY PELLE

Nerlens Noel was a late scratch on Wednesday due to ankle soreness. Noel is expected to return to the lineup on Friday against Dallas, SNY has learned. League sources familiar with Noel’s status said his absence on Wednesday was precautionary. The Knicks, like most of the rest of the league, have a condensed schedule down the stretch.

With Noel out, Gibson started and Norvel Pelle backed him up. Thibodeau was impressed with Pelle, who gave the Knicks a presence at the rim, set solid screens and finished with four points, three rebounds, a block and a steal in 13 minutes.

“Norvel was terrific,” Thibodeau said. “He’s been putting in a lot of extra work. He’s still finding his way, learning the system. But his length, shot blocking, the rim protection is huge for us.”

Gibson stepped up for New York in the starting role. He had eight points, 10 rebounds (4 offensive), two blocks and two assists.

“The one thing about Taj that you know is you can start him, you can bring him off the bench, you can have him situational, he’s the same every day,” Thibodeau said. “Always ready, always team first.”

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