The Knicks whipped the Pistons, 114-104, on Thursday night to enter the All-Star break on an 8-3 spree and with a winning record at 19-18.
With chants of “Let’s Go Knicks’’ from the 2,000 strong on hand at the Garden, they clobbered the Eastern Conference-worst Pistons for the second time in four days, making sure to take advantage on what has been a soft schedule recently.
In fact, of their last eight victories, seven have come against clubs well below .500 (Washington, Houston, Atlanta, Minnesota, Sacramento and Detroit).
But after seven years of being the league’s laughingstocks, the Knicks will take it. Whether they can keep it up when play resumes is another story.
The Knicks will open the season’s second half with a four-game road trip that will test their mettle — at Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Brooklyn and Philadelphia — and won’t play the Garden again until March 18 against Orlando. They are 11-7 at home.
The giddy Garden even chanted “We Want Pinson” Thursday night, calling for 12th man Theo Pinson.
The Knicks still didn’t have ex-Piston Derrick Rose (COVID-19 protocols) but that didn’t matter against the pitiful Pistons (10-27). All five Knicks starters had hit double figures by the end of the third quarter.
Julius Randle closed his brilliant season’s first half with 27 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. He’ll be in Atlanta on All-Star Sunday for his first appearance.
“We’re growing as a team, growing as a unit,’’ Randle said. “We got to go into the break and stay ready because the second half will be a beast.’’
Randle’s sidekick, RJ Barrett, may get there one day. He soared into the All-Star break with a 21-point, five-assist evening in which he shot 9 of 13.
Point guard Elfrid Payton was not only back in action after missing four straight games with a hamstring strain but started. He picked up six quick points, not showing rust with his ability to penetrate, setting the tone and finishing with 20 points in 35 minutes.
The Knicks closed the first half with panache. They went on an 18-4 run to go up by 15 points before a driving layup by Detroit’s Dennis Smith Jr. in the final seconds made the score 59-46 at halftime.
The run was sparked by Barrett, who fed center Nerlens Noel (12 points, 11 rebounds) for an alley-oop stuff. Barrett then drove hard for a tomahawk jam. One possession later, Barrett snatched a long offensive rebound and dribbled in for a layup.
Barrett scored 10 points by halftime, and Randle, selected to Team Durant in the All-Star Game earlier in the evening, racked up a double-double by halftime (18 and 10).
Meanwhile, Frank Ntilikina, who started at point guard the prior contest in San Antonio, continued his 3-point genius. After hitting 3 of 3 against the Spurs, he came off the bench in the first quarter and hit three straight in four minutes to make him 6 for his last 6.
Noel, their starting center with Mitchell Robinson injured, gave the Knicks a defensive spark in the first quarter with a monster block on a driving Sekou Doumbouya. The Pistons were rocky from the 3-point line, going 5 of 20 in the first half.