The last time the New York Knicks won 14 games in a calendar month, they came within one game of winning the NBA title.
More memories of the spring and summer of 1994 are sure to be conjured Thursday night, when the red-hot Knicks host the Indiana Pacers in a battle of longtime rivals.
Both teams were off Wednesday after playing Tuesday. The Knicks closed out their historic month by rolling to a 118-103 win over the visiting Utah Jazz while the Pacers fell to the host Boston Celtics 129-124.
The win was the eighth straight for the Knicks, who went 14-2 in January to leap into third place in the Eastern Conference. The 14 wins were the most in a month for New York since a Patrick Ewing-led, Pat Riley-coached team went 14-0 in March 1994 – two months before a seven-game loss to the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.
That Knicks team advanced to the Finals by outlasting the Pacers in a seven-game Eastern Conference finals. New York overcame a 3-2 deficit in the series, which had just one game decided by more than 11 points.
A January that was as resourceful as was successful has spurred a title-starved city. New York hasn’t won an NBA title since 1973 and has been beyond the first round just twice since reaching the 1999 Finals. These Knicks have surged despite starters OG Anunoby, Jalen Brunson, Isaiah Hartenstein and Julius Randle all missing two games apiece in January.
While Brunson and Hartenstein are back, Anunoby remains day-to-day with a right elbow injury while Randle is out indefinitely due to a separated shoulder.
The Pacers enjoyed periods of time in January looking like a candidate to play deep into the postseason. Indiana, which is in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and would be in line to play the Knicks in the first round if the seedings hold, went 10-7 during January, which began with consecutive victories over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Those were the fourth and fifth wins of a season-long six-game winning streak for the Pacers, who built another three-game winning streak from Jan. 8-12 before an up-and-down final two-plus weeks.
Indiana went 4-6 in its last 10 games of the month, a stretch that included a three-game losing streak followed by a three-game winning streak that ended with Tuesday’s loss.
The Pacers’ inconsistency was on display Tuesday, when they fell behind by 20 points in the final minute of the first half but took the lead in the third quarter and trailed by three with under a minute left in the game before missing their final four shots.
Star guard Tyrese Haliburton, who missed 10 of the previous 11 games due to a strained hamstring, scored 13 points and had 10 assists in 22 minutes Tuesday for Indiana.